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Lieberman Defeated in Democratic Primary

Ned Lamont exults at a victory party in Meriden.
Ned Lamont exults at a victory party in Meriden. "They call Connecticut the land of steady habits," he said. "Tonight we voted for a big change." (By Fred Beckham -- Associated Press)

Republican officials have argued that a Lamont victory would represent a left turn for the Democrats on security issues, a charge that Democratic leaders have rejected, arguing that the contest here was as much about Democratic frustration with the president as with the war.

At a minimum, the Connecticut primary is likely to ensure that Democrats of all stripes -- those who initially supported the war and those who have opposed it -- take a more aggressive posture in combating the president and his policies at home and abroad.

Lieberman had trailed badly in some pre-election polls and mounted a final-week push that included a speech Sunday night designed to address criticism of his position on the war and his relationship with Bush. That helped make the contest much tighter than it once appeared, but still left Lieberman short of his goal.

Lieberman, 64, was first elected to the Senate in 1988, defeating Republican incumbent Lowell P. Weicker Jr. Earlier he served as Connecticut attorney general. In this three terms in the Senate, he became one of the party's most prominent hawks on military matters and an advocate of bipartisanship who sometimes relished his reputation for crossing party lines on matters of principle.

Those characteristics put him on the defensive in the primary campaign, even though he enjoyed the support of former president Bill Clinton and an array of Democratic officials nationally and in the state, as well as the support of major newspapers in Connecticut and key Democratic constituency groups.

Lamont, 52, is a wealthy Greenwich businessman whose great-grandfather Thomas W. Lamont was a chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. He made a fortune in the telecommunications industry but is a relative newcomer to politics, having served previously as a Greenwich selectman. He lost a bid for the state Senate in 1990.

Lamont built his campaign initially with the enthusiastic support of the "Net roots" -- bloggers and other Internet-based activists -- and then expanded with a grass-roots campaign that attracted rank-and-file Democrats who opposed the war and who complained that Lieberman had neglected the interests of his home state.

Many Democratic officials had said that, despite their support for Lieberman in the primary, they would back Lamont in the general election if he defeated the incumbent. Many more are likely to come aboard the Lamont campaign on Wednesday.

That sets up what is likely to be a bitter rerun of the primary and continued divisions within the party here that some Democrats fear could affect their chances of capturing three closely contested Republican-held U.S. House seats in Connecticut.

Democrats have been talking privately about efforts to persuade Lieberman not to run as an independent, but the margin of Lamont's victory may make that far more problematic. Lieberman advisers had said for days they doubted that the incumbent could be turned back for running as an independent, and he seemed almost liberated on Tuesday night by the ability to run in the fall without having to bow to the anger inside his own party that brought about Lamont's extraordinary victory.

It is rare that Senate incumbents lose their primaries and rarer still that they are felled by the kind of challenge that Lamont's candidacy represented. Lieberman's defeat was the result of many factors, including perceptions that he cared more about his national agenda and ambitions than he did about Connecticut. But it was the war and Democratic frustration with Bush that brought about his downfall.

Controversy marred the final hours of the campaign. On Monday, Lieberman's Web site crashed. Lieberman advisers blamed that on pro-Lamont hackers. Lamont's campaign denied involvement.

The contest ahead is expected to be contentious. The Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, is lightly regarded, and there has been some speculation that Republicans would seek to have him step aside in favor of a stronger candidate.

Lieberman and Lamont met in their only debate of the campaign on July 6. Lieberman hammered Lamont as a single-issue candidate who had taken multiple positions on the war and urged his rival -- and Connecticut voters -- not to take out their anger at Bush on him.

"I know George Bush," Lieberman said. "I've worked against George Bush. I've even run against George Bush, but I'm not George Bush. So why don't you stop running against him and have the courage and honesty to run against me and the facts of my record?"

Lamont fired back, "Senator Lieberman, if you won't challenge President Bush and his failed agenda, I will."

Democrats also were selecting a nominee to run against the popular Republican governor, M. Jodi Rell. With almost all the voted counted, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano led Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy by about 4,000 votes.

Special correspondent Chris Cillizza and political researcher Zachary A. Goldfarb contributed to this report.

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