Lamont Leads Lieberman by 13 Points in New Poll

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 4, 2006

HARTFORD, Conn., Aug. 3 -- Democratic challenger Ned Lamont, riding strong antiwar sentiment, has surged to a significant lead over embattled Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) heading into Tuesday's Senate primary, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released here Thursday.

The poll showed Lamont ahead of Lieberman by 54 percent to 41 percent, underscoring the challenger's clear advantage.

Facing a likely defeat, Lieberman has scrapped plans for a massive and costly get-out-the-vote operation on primary day, according to several Democratic sources. Instead, he will shift some of his resources into more television commercials designed to highlight his accomplishments for the state, in hopes of boosting his battered image.

The three-term incumbent and 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee announced earlier that he will run as an independent in November if he loses on Tuesday to Lamont, a millionaire Greenwich businessman with limited political experience. But a landslide loss to Lamont could complicate Lieberman's hopes of winning a fourth term in a three-way general election contest.

Many Democratic leaders have endorsed Lieberman in the primary, but most of them have said they will back whoever wins the nomination.

Lieberman, a leading centrist Democrat and one of the Senate's most prominent advocates of bipartisanship, seemed invincible until a few months ago. But he has suffered from his strong support for President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq, in a state where opposition to the war and the president runs high. And he has alienated some voters, who complain that he has neglected his home state over the years.

Lamont, a former Greenwich selectman but a newcomer to statewide politics, has derided Lieberman as "Bush's lapdog" and has soared in the polls with the help of an agile, well-financed campaign and strong backing from progressive bloggers. In a hard-hitting televised debate last month, Lamont assailed the incumbent for ignoring reports of rising violence and instability in Iraq, and for cheering on Bush "when he should have been asking the tough questions."

Lieberman sought to portray Lamont as a fringe candidate with little grasp of the military and geopolitical stakes in Iraq, but the tactic did not appear to work with Connecticut's large pool of Democrats. Lieberman's struggle has drawn national attention because it illustrates the power of antiwar activism in the Democratic Party and because of its potential implications for other races in the November midterm elections.

Significantly, the new poll findings show that Lieberman received no boost from a high-profile visit by former president Bill Clinton, who came to Waterbury on July 24 to vouch for Lieberman's Democratic credentials and urge Connecticut Democrats not to reject him because of his support for Bush's war policies.

Lieberman, who used Clinton in television ads after the visit, said this week that he considered the rally a turning point that rejuvenated his candidacy. Instead, the poll shows Lieberman continuing to lose ground to Lamont. In June, Lieberman led Lamont by 55 percent to 40 percent. A second poll released just before Clinton's visit found Lamont edging into the lead, 51 percent to 47 percent.

Lieberman spokeswoman Marion Steinfels played down the significance of the new poll. "Our view is it's a fluid race, that no one really knows what's going to happen," she said.

Another campaign adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss strategy, said the public poll tracked internal campaign surveys. "The race has been headed in that direction for a while," the adviser said. "It's a fairly accurate reflection of where the race is."

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