Live

Watch CBSN Live

Lamont Narrowly Leads Lieberman

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was locked in a battle with an anti-war challenger in the nation's most closely watched primary race, trailed in early returns in Tuesday's primary election, struggling to overcome a tough primary challenge and escape payback from his own party for supporting the Iraq war.

Six years after Democrats backed him for vice president, Lieberman lagged with 48 percent, or 127,249 votes, to political novice Ned Lamont's 51 percent, or 136,353 votes, with 94 percent of precincts reporting.

Lieberman canceled his final campaign appearances and began reaching voters by phone in the final hours before the polls closed Tuesday at 8 p.m. The three-term incumbent skipped stops scheduled for Waterbury and Bristol, and instead spent time calling voters, campaign officials said.

"We've been taking it very seriously ... that's why he's making calls," campaign spokeswoman Marion Steinfels said. "He's making sure people get to the polls. We've been saying we're going to fight for every last vote and we meant it."

While Lieberman was locked in battle in the nation's most closely watched primary race, he accused his supporters of his opponent, Ned Lamont, of hacking his campaign Web site and e-mail system.

Lieberman campaign manager Sean Smith said the campaign has contacted the Connecticut attorney general's office and asked for a criminal investigation by state and federal authorities.

While campaigning Tuesday in New Haven, Lieberman said he has no proof that Lamont supporters are responsible, but is asking the state party chairman to intervene.

"I'm concerned that our Web site is knocked out on the day of the primary; you'd assume it wasn't any casual observer," Lieberman said.

Lamont, campaigning early Tuesday afternoon in Bridgeport, called the accusation "just another scurrilous charge." His campaign denied involvement and said the primary day accusation is a sign of Lieberman's desperation.

The U.S. Attorney's office and the chief state's attorney acknowledged receiving the complaint, but declined further comment. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he would also investigate.

Smith said the site began having problems Monday night and crashed for good at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Recent polls showed Lamont with a lead but Lieberman closing the gap in recent days. If defeated, Lieberman would be only the fourth incumbent senator since 1980 to lose a primary election. The three-term senator, nationally known for his centrist views and his party's vice presidential nominee in 2000, has endured harsh criticism in his home state for supporting the Iraq war and has been labeled by some Democrats as too close to Republicans and President Bush.

The race has attracted tremendous interest, both in Connecticut and nationally. More than 14,000 Connecticut voters switched their registration from unaffiliated to Democrat to vote in the primary, while another 14,000 new voters registered as Democrats, according to state statistics.

Lamont made a midday campaign stop Tuesday at Luis Munoz Marin School in Bridgeport, the city where he has taught entrepreneurship classes as a volunteer instructor. Campaign volunteers wearing Lamont T-shirts cheered when he arrived, waiting to shake his hand and pose for pictures. Lamont said he felt energized by the support he'd received during the day and felt confident of a primary victory.

"A lot of people around the country are looking to Connecticut to see what course they want for this country," Lamont said.

At Nica's Market in New Haven, Lieberman's hometown, T-shirt clad volunteers waved campaign signs and chanted "Two-four-six-eight, vote for Joe, it's not too late." Shoppers at Nica's greeted the senator warmly, with one man telling him he had entered the voting booth intending to pick Lamont, but decided it didn't make sense to abandon Lieberman just to register a protest vote about the war in Iraq.

Lieberman said he has heard similar stories.

"It's me and the other guy, and people are understanding that what's on the line is their future and who will do a better job for them," Lieberman said.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz projected turnout between 45 percent and 50 percent, much higher than the 25 percent turnout that is typical of state primaries. She said many communities had reported turnout greater than 20 percent by 1 p.m., and poll workers were expecting the heaviest turnout in the late afternoon, as people went home from work.

"It's an amazing story where somebody who was a complete unknown was able to give a great race to a national figure like Joe Lieberman," Quinnipiac Poll Director Doug Schwartz told CBS News. "I've never seen anything like this."

Lieberman has said he believes voters are coming back to him.

"I feel they were flirting with the other guy for a while, wanting to send me a message," he said Monday during a stop at a restaurant in Hartford. "I got their message. I think they want to send me back to Washington to continue working with them, fighting for them, and delivering for Connecticut."

But former Sen. Lowell Wiecker, a Lamont supporter who was unseated by Lieberman 18 years ago, said he believes a Lieberman defeat will embolden the Democrat's 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," Weicker said.

"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 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."

Lieberman has campaigned with the support of party leaders in Washington and at home. But a defeat would strip him of that backing as early as Tuesday night or Wednesday, and he likely would come under to pressure from longtime allies to abandon plans to run as an independent this fall.

Nancy DiNardo, the state party chairwoman, has supported Lieberman. But she has said that if Lamont wins the primary, she will have to back him in the general election.

DiNardo told CBSNews.com that "as state party chair, I endorse the candidate who wins the Democratic primary. That is my role. And Joe's certainly allowed to go out and collect signatures, if that's where he's going."

DiNardo acknowledged a Lieberman loss will be awkward for many Democrats. Most of the state's high-profile Democrats, such the state's other senator, fellow democrat Chris Dodd, have publicly and actively supported Lieberman in his primary battle.

Mike Pohl, 43, secretary of the Democratic Town Committee in Manchester, said he was leaning toward Lieberman because a three-way battle in the general election would hurt the party.

"If Lieberman won this primary it would be over tomorrow," he said. "If Lamont wins it's not over."

But Terry Bogli, 60, said she voted for Lamont.

"We have to go with what's in here," she said, pointing to her heart. "Sometimes you have to not be afraid of that battle."

Lamont, a millionaire owner of a cable television company and a former Greenwich selectman, held a slight lead of 51 percent to 45 percent over Lieberman among likely Democratic voters heading into Tuesday's primary. The Quinnipiac University telephone poll of 784 likely Democratic primary voters, conducted from July 31 to Aug. 6, has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The race has tightened in recent days, with Lamont's lead cut from 13 points.

Should Lieberman lose Tuesday, supporters would have until Wednesday afternoon to submit petitions to put his name on the ballot as an independent.

View CBS News In