In one of the most contentious races Connecticut has seen in many years, Sen. Joe Lieberman - crippled by his support for the Iraq war - lost the Democratic primary to challenger Ned Lamont, who portrayed him as an apologist for the Bush administration.
Lieberman's loss to Lamont — just six years after his party made him its vice presidential candidate — makes him only the fourth incumbent senator to lose a primary since 1980. He is pledging to petition his way onto the November ballot as an independent candidate for what would be his fourth term of office.
The veteran lawmaker's plan to run as an independent is already raising eyebrows: a CBS News/New York Times exit poll found that 61 percent of Democratic primary voters are opposed to Lieberman running as an independent. Even among those who voted for Lieberman in the primary, one in five said they did not favor his running as an independent.
That is, however, what Lieberman has in mind.
"As I see it, in this campaign we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But, in the second half, our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November,"
Lieberman isn't wasting any time. He's expected to file the papers for an independent candidacy on Wednesday - at about 9 a.m.
"A lot of folks said it was an impossible dream," Lamont said at his victory speech. "But let me tell you we succeeded tonight because of you. because of grassroots and because of netroots. We have a coalition of change."
Early reports from polling stations showed heavy turnout — exactly what Lamont's campaign hoped for. Officials said turnout could have been, up to to 50 percent, which would have broken its record for turnout in a statewide primary, which had been 38.8 percent in 1970.
Some might have described Lamont's charge onto the national political stage as foolhardy; he told CBSNews.com that he didn't have much support last winter when he decided to throw in his hat.
"Well, let's face it, it was a pretty uphill climb from the get-go. It discouraged a lot of other people, but it didn't discourage me," Lamont said. "I thought he was wrong on a lot of the big issues of the day, and I think President Bush is very wrong, and I think it's important that the Democrats be bold and stand up for what we stand for: a constructive alternative."
The Lamont-Lieberman race was watched closely by the liberal, Internet-savvy Democrats who lead the party's emerging "netroots" movement, including groups such as Moveon.org, which has played a big role in the Lamont campaign.
"It is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise voters," Smith said.
Lamont, campaigning early Tuesday afternoon in Bridgeport, said he knew nothing about the accusations. "It's just another scurrilous charge," he said.
A week ago, polls showed Lieberman trailing Lamont by 13 percentage points. The latest polls showed the race tightening, with Lamont holding a slight lead of 51 percent to 45 percent over Lieberman among likely Democratic voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Monday.
Democratic critics targeted Lieberman for his strong support for the Iraq war and for his close ties to President Bush. They played and replayed video of the kiss President Bush planted on Lieberman's cheek after the 2005 State of the Union address.
Lieberman's faltering poll numbers spurred some Democratic colleagues to make last-minute campaign appearances on his behalf, including former President Clinton, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and others.
But he was hurt by his support of the war.
The CBS News/New York Times exit poll found that 78 percent of Democratic primary voters disapprove of the war in Iraq. Among opponents of the war, 60 percent voted for Lamont; among supporters of the war, 78 percent voted for Lieberman.
Nearly 60 percent of primary voters said Lieberman is too close to President Bush; and among that group, the vote was overwhelmingly for Lamont.
Lamont was at first viewed almost exclusively as an anti-war alternative to Lieberman. But as the campaign wore on, perceptions of Lamont shifted, according to blogger Taegan Goddard, founder of the Political Wire.
"Lamont isn't a one-issue contender, he's the real deal. He's an intelligent man with real positions," said Goddard, as the campaign went down to the wire.
Lamont has enjoyed a lot of positive buzz among bloggers.
"The bloggers now follow him around and they really support him. I consider myself part of that base," Chris Casey, an 18-year-old Connecticut contributor to NetRootsMovement.com, told CBSNews.com. "[Lamont] is the star of YouTube, and he's not even the one doing it. It's these guys stalking him with their shaky cameras," Casey" Casey said.
Former Sen. Lowell Wiecker, a Lamont supporter who was unseated by Lieberman 18 years ago, said he believes a Lieberman defeat can embolden the Democrats for this fall's midterm elections, CBS News correspondent Trish Regan reports.
"It sends a signal to the Democratic Party that you aren't going to win anything unless you stand up and make a clear case for getting out of Iraq," said Weicker, a legend in the state of Connecticut for his often independent views, and who was governor of the state as an independent.
"I'm completely for Lamont because of the war issue," said William Clement, 57, who voted in Hartford's west end Tuesday morning. "I'm totally disgusted with Lieberman and his positions. I think he sold us out."
Norwich's Raymond Deauchemn, 55, said he, too, voted for Lamont. "I don't think Lieberman is doing that great of a job. He's more like Bush than anything else. I think he's his little puppet."
Hartford resident Jack Ellovich cast his vote Tuesday morning for Lieberman, although he said his wife voted for Lamont.
"He's got the experience, he's got the clout," said Ellovich of Lieberman. "He's already got the standing in the Senate. I think he can get stuff done for Connecticut and I don't think Lamont really knows how the system works."