Storm Warnings Posted

Are we in the blogosphere making too much of Senator Joseph Lieberman’s loss in the Connecticut primary to challenger Ned Lamont yesterday? Perhaps. Lamont’s margin of victory was not exactly a blowout, since he won by a margin of just four percent. Connecticut is not just a blue state, it is a bright blue state. Moreover, while trying to find consensus from Democrats on just about any issue is next to impossible, Lieberman seemed out of the mainstream even to most ordinary Democrats.

Now that he has lost and is declaring he will run a campaign as an independent, all of Joe’s nice and cozy congressional Democratic pals are putting him at arm’s length. Whether they are respecting the will of the voters or protecting their own hides is unclear. Clearly, there is a dearth of Democrats rushing to embrace Lieberman’s independent campaign for the Senate. Karl Rove’s willingness to use the Republican Party’s time and money to help Joe win in November should send the last supportive Democrats rushing for the exits. With friends like Karl Rove, who needs enemies?

I would not want Lieberman’s odds of winning the general election as an independent. In Connecticut, registered Democrats comprise about 33% of voters, Republicans 21% and Independents 44%. Prior to the primary, which attracted participation rates of over 40% (virtually unheard of for a primary, particularly in August) many Independents switched to Democrats just so they could vote in the primary. At this point, it is not clear whether these were Democratic or Republican leaning independents, but it is unlikely that too many Independents would become Democrats if they had Republican leanings. Anyhow, Connecticut Democrats will have to decide if they want to break ranks to vote for a man who has consistently voted with Republicans on matters that are core Democratic principles (such as approving right wing judges). That defies common sense. Republicans will have to decide that they are okay with holding their nose and not vote Republican. In addition, of course, Lieberman has to build up excitement for his run in a state which is just tired of the man.

Lamont’s victory was particularly startling because six months ago he was a virtual unknown who had only held one small public office some twenty years ago. It helps, as always, for challengers to be rich and be unafraid to spend their personal fortune. Even so, Lamont’s fortune could not make up for contributions from Lieberman’s political connections. Lamont was outspent by more than two to one. This win can be interpreted then as a sign the state’s Democratic voters are deeply frustrated with Lieberman and want someone who truly represents their values.

Attributing his success to the liberal blogosphere is disingenuous. Even though top liberal blogs like DailyKos attract up to a million visits a day, most ordinary Americans are not myopically reading political blogs. They have lives. Certainly, Lamont got some significant cash from the blogosphere as well as many volunteers. At best, the blogosphere was only indirectly responsible for Lamont’s victory. Their role, if anything, was simply to draw attention and energy to his candidacy. Lamont’s victory is more a sign of disgruntlement with Lieberman than enthusiasm for Lamont, although reportedly Lamont is a very down to earth and sensible man.

Perhaps Lamont’s surprise victory is this simple: he acknowledged the elephant in the room. Lieberman did not. In doing so Lamont demonstrated that he was grounded in the current reality, sad though it may be. It appears that this year voters are looking for candidates who can acknowledge the complexity of today’s issues. Iraq today is a hopeless place, yet Lieberman is one of the few people who still thinks we can really solve a problem that has devolved beyond our, or anyone’s ability to control it. It shows that he is seriously detached from reality.

I think yesterday’s primary was the first gust of wind in the first wave of a political storm will make landfall on November 7th. Storm warnings have been posted. Sensible politicians who want to survive are battening down the hatches, not standing on the surf laughing into the wind.