By STEPHANIE REITZ
The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 9, 2006; 4:59 PM
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Sen. Joe Lieberman filed to run for re-election in November as an independent, saying Wednesday it would be "irresponsible and inconsistent with my principles" to quit. But Democratic leaders in Washington rallied around the man who beat him for the nomination, Ned Lamont.
In a statement issued in Washington, two top Senate Democrats _ Harry Reid of Nevada and Chuck Schumer of New York _ said they "fully support" Lamont, an anti-war candidate who tapped into voter anger over Lieberman's support of the Iraq war.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated her pledge to back the winner of the primary. She stopped short of calling for Lieberman to quit the race but urged the senator to "search his conscience and decide what is best for Connecticut and for the Democratic party" before going forward with an independent campaign.
The final returns from Tuesday's primary showed Lamont defeating Lieberman 52 percent to 48 percent.
Early Wednesday, the Lieberman campaign delivered two boxes of petitions to the secretary of state's office, and aides said they contained more than enough signatures to qualify the three-term senator for the November ballot.
The move would set up a three-way race this fall among Lamont, Lieberman and Republican Alan Schlesinger, who has trailed far behind both Democrats in recent polls.
"I think it would be irresponsible and inconsistent with my principles if I were to just walk off the field," Lieberman said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lieberman said he not bothered by losing the support of his Democratic peers, noting he lost Tuesday's primary even with their backing.
"In the end the people make up their own minds, and this is going to be a people's campaign," Lieberman said.
At a Democratic unity rally Wednesday morning, Lamont, a political newcomer who has held only local office, grinned broadly as he took his place with his new Democratic colleagues _ most of whom had originally endorsed Lieberman and campaigned for him.
"Nancy, I got to tell you," he told party chairwoman Nancy DiNardo, "I like being on your team."
Lieberman said that he fired his campaign manager and spokesman, and asked for the resignations of his campaign staff.
"We did not answer, adequately answer, the distortions of my record on Iraq and my relationship with George Bush, that the Lamont campaign put out," said Lieberman, though he said he did not blame campaign workers.
White House press secretary Tony Snow said Tuesday's primary bodes poorly for the Democratic Party this fall.
"I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president, and I would flip it," Snow said from Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is spending time at his home. "I think, instead, it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party they're going to come after you."
Lieberman's 10,000-vote loss Tuesday sent shock waves through the local and national Democratic party. It was Lieberman's first loss in a Connecticut campaign since 1980, and he has long been one of Connecticut's most popular Democrats. Lieberman is just the fourth Senate incumbent since 1980 to lose a primary.
Lamont won by hammering away at Lieberman's support for the Iraq war and accusing him of being too close to Bush. His campaign was embraced by liberal bloggers, who saw the campaign as a chance to take down an incumbent and play a bigger role in the Democratic party.
A Quinnipiac University poll released in July showed that 51 percent of likely voters would support Lieberman in a three-way race, versus 27 percent for Lamont and 9 percent for Schlesinger, a lawyer who was formerly a legislator and mayor.
Though having both Lieberman and Lamont on the ballot could split the Democratic vote, Schlesinger is not considered a major threat. His campaign stumbled in July after it was learned that he used a fake name to gamble at a Connecticut casino and had been sued over gambling debts at two New Jersey casinos. Republican Gov. M Jodi Rell urged him to drop out of the Senate race, but Schlesinger called the gambling a "non-issue" and vowed to remain in the race.
In a statement in which they threw their support to Lamont, Reid and Schumer, the party's leader and the head of its campaign committee, respectively, said: "The perception was that (Lieberman) was too close to George Bush and this was, in many respects, a referendum on the president more than anything else."
Similarly, Lieberman's fellow Connecticut senator, Chris Dodd, who had been campaigning for Lieberman, said he regretted his close friend's decision and would now campaign for Lamont.
The Republicans called Lieberman's defeat a "shame."
"Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defense, and for that, he was purged from his party. It is a sobering moment," Republican National chairman Ken Mehlman said.
Lieberman had already filed paperwork to create a new party called Connecticut for Lieberman.