"As I see it, in this campaign we just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman last night after his Democratic primary loss to Ned Lamont. "But, in the second half, our team, Team Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory in November."
In announcing his general election run as an "independent Democrat" — he will file the papers today — Lieberman is betting that voters will accept his view that the race is the second half of a single game. The danger for him is that voters will view Tuesday's primary as the game — a game Lieberman lost.
Even before Tuesday, it was conventional wisdom that Lieberman's decision to keep running after a possible defeat — made when Lamont began to rise in the polls — hurt Lieberman's chances in the Democratic primary. Quinnipiac University took three polls on the question of a three-way race, in May, June, and July. During that period, Lieberman's support went down, and Lamont's went up.
Voters were asked, "If the 2006 election for senator were being held today and the candidates were Ned Lamont the Democrat, Alan Schlesinger the Republican and Joseph Lieberman running as an independent candidate, for whom would you vote?" In May, 56 percent of those polled said they would vote for Lieberman, with 13 percent choosing Lamont and 10 percent for Schlesinger. In June, Lieberman's support remained at 56 percent, but Lamont had climbed to 18 percent, with eight percent for Schlesinger. Then, in July, Lieberman's support slipped to 51 percent, while Lamont rose to 27 percent, with nine percent for Schlesinger.
It seems reasonable to conclude that Lieberman's support had fallen further by Election Day. And those were polls based on the prospect of Lieberman running after losing to Lamont. Now, Lieberman faces the reality of such a run — and the question of whether voters will view his decision as violating their innate sense of fair play.
If you lose a campaign and then come around two, or four, or six years later to challenge the man who beat you, that's one thing. If you lose a campaign and keep running as if you hadn't lost, that's another. From now on, every day that Lieberman campaigns, he will be reminded that he has already lost to the man he is running against. Lamont's supporters won't let him forget it, and Lamont himself will be happy to point it out. In his concession speech, Lieberman said, "Tomorrow is a brand new day" and promised a "new campaign to unite people of Connecticut, GOP, Democrat and independent." But tomorrow is now today, and the race might look different to Connecticut voters.
Back in 2000, in an entirely different context, Republicans cast the Gore-Lieberman team as "Sore Loserman." GOP anger was directed at Al Gore, who would not admit that he had lost the presidential election. At least Gore's loss was excruciatingly, historically close. That's not the case with Lieberman today. He lost by three and a half percentage points, with no question about the results. This time, it might be Democrats holding those "Sore Loserman" signs.
Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of the book 'The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time."
By Byron York
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online