Is Lieberman thinking of going Independent?
Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, warily watching his primary challenger advance in the polls, must soon decide whether to start collecting signatures for a possible independent bid this November.
Lieberman's campaign contends that it's focused only on winning the Aug. 8 primary, but the Democrat has not ruled out petitioning his way onto the November ballot as part of a backup plan to secure a fourth term in the Senate.
"I am not going to close out any options," the senator recently told reporters.
Lieberman has until Aug. 9 _ the day after the Democratic primary _ to collect 7,500 signatures from registered voters to gain a spot on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.
But any effort to gather signatures before the primary would be a sign of weakness, indicating that Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, fears that he could lose to businessman Ned Lamont. The effort also would rile Democrats who already question Lieberman's party loyalty and his perceived closeness to President Bush.
The senator has been a strong backer of the Iraq war.
Christopher Kukk, an associate political science professor at Western Connecticut State University, said it's a risk Lieberman may be willing to take as Lamont continues to make gains in the polls.
"I think he'll alienate Democratic voters, but to be honest with you, I think he already has alienated Democratic voters," Kukk said. "If Lamont is gaining ... I think you'll see Lieberman jump."
According to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, 57 percent of registered Democrats in Connecticut said they would vote for Lieberman, compared to 32 percent for Lamont. A month ago, Lieberman drew 65 percent to Lamont's 19 percent.
The poll found that if Lieberman runs as an independent, he would win with 56 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent for Lamont and 8 percent for Republican Alan Schlesinger. Lieberman enjoys higher ratings among Republicans and unaffiliated voters than Democrats, the poll found. Unaffiliated voters are the state's largest bloc of voters, followed by Democrats and then Republicans.
Lamont, a multimillionaire owner of a cable television company, launched an ad campaign this week asking for Lieberman's support should he win the primary, and promising to back Lieberman should the senator prevail.
"What do you say, Senator?" Lamont asks in the radio ad. "May the best Democrat win."
Lamont's campaign manager, Tom Swan, said Democrats want to know what Lieberman will do.
"If Joe Lieberman is considering abandoning the Democratic Party, the people have a right to know it," Swan said. "Ned is agreeing to abide by the process and respect the choice of the people. Will Joe?" .
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