Former President Joins Rally for Lieberman

By David S. Broder
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

WATERBURY, Conn., July 24 -- Former president Bill Clinton joined a stage full of Connecticut officials Monday night in testifying to the Democratic credentials of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, whose 18-year tenure is threatened by the primary challenge of antiwar insurgent Ned Lamont.

Clinton headed a rescue effort disguised as a rally in the refurbished Palace Theater in downtown Waterbury -- a city famous in Democratic lore as the site of a tumultuous 2 a.m. outdoor rally on the final night of the 1960 presidential campaign.

With polls showing him no better than even with Lamont, a wealthy businessman who is largely self-financing his challenge in the Aug. 8 primary, Lieberman turned to his old friend Clinton for help.

The senator recalled that, as a Yale Law School student, Clinton had volunteered in Lieberman's first campaign for the state Senate 36 years ago, and he said he hoped this return visit would have an equally happy result -- a victory. The two have remained close through the years, despite the fact that Lieberman admonished Clinton for his moral laxity in the Monica Lewinsky affair in a celebrated Senate floor speech. Lieberman made no reference to that event Monday night but instead recalled, "I was the first senator outside Arkansas to endorse Bill Clinton for the nomination in 1992."

Lieberman did not mention Iraq or his support for the war, and Clinton touched only lightly on what he referred to as "the pink elephant in the room."

Clinton made no effort to support Lieberman's view; instead he said that Democrats should bear no blame for "the mistakes that were made after the fall of Saddam Hussein" and added: "We can disagree on what we do next . . . but we can fight together and we can go forward together."

The former president was kind to Lamont. "I have nothing against Joe's opponent," he said. "He has a right to run."

But Clinton said Lieberman had been a strong supporter of his own economic, environmental and energy policies. Both Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), have said they support Lieberman in the primary but will back the Democratic nominee in November's general election.

Lieberman angered many Democratic voters, the polls show, by announcing three weeks ago that if he loses the primary to Lamont, he will file for reelection as an independent. Much of the night's program was a defense of Lieberman's Democratic credentials.

A crowd of perhaps 2,000 cheered as Lieberman's Connecticut colleague, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, proclaimed, "Joe Lieberman is a good man -- and a very good Democrat."

Lieberman said Lamont "is spreading the big lie that I'm not a real Democrat." Calling out the names of the Democratic and labor officials on the platform behind him, he challenged Lamont to ask any of them whether he was a pretender.

"And ask that other fella over there -- the big guy from Arkansas. He's known me since my first race 36 years ago," Lieberman said.

Clinton's visit came at a critical moment in the campaign. A poll released last week gave Lamont a four-point lead, within the margin of error, indicating the primary is a tossup. But several sources in Connecticut said the momentum since the only debate, early this month, has clearly been in the challenger's direction. Some top Connecticut Democrats have said privately they think Lieberman may be headed for defeat in the primary.

The same Quinnipiac University poll shows Lieberman is far stronger running as an independent in a theoretical matchup with Lamont and the little-known Republican nominee, Alan Schlesinger. But Lieberman has said he is determined to win the Democratic primary, which would almost certainly guarantee him another term.

The battle is attracting more and more attention from outside campaigners. While most of Connecticut's Democratic elected officials are in Lieberman's corner, two liberal House Democrats, Reps. Maxine Waters (Calif.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), came here over the weekend to campaign for Lamont.

Liberal bloggers are also heavily involved in mobilizing antiwar Democrats to support Lamont.

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