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Democratic Leadership Welcomes Lamont

But there was an undercurrent of frustration, as Democrats considered the tangled implications of a Lieberman independent bid and began to separate themselves from a colleague who won his first seat as a Democrat in 1970. "This is a difficult moment," Dodd acknowledged. Referring to Lieberman, he said, "We're very, very good friends." And then Dodd endorsed Lamont.

Many Democrats see former president Clinton, who campaigned for Lieberman but now supports Lamont, or Dodd as likely emissaries to make the case to Lieberman to halt his independent candidacy.

Based on initial efforts, Lieberman appears unreceptive. Dodd, according to a knowledgeable Democrat, tried to approach Lieberman on Sunday to talk about post-primary decisions to no avail.

On Tuesday night, he knocked on the door of Lieberman's hotel suite, but no one answered. Eventually, he met with Sherry Brown, Lieberman's longtime adviser who was installed Wednesday as campaign manager.

Some Democrats believe it may take an external event, such as a poll showing that he probably would lose a three-way contest with Lamont and Republican Alan Schlesinger, to persuade him to change his mind. If Lieberman wants to reconsider, Dodd said, "He knows I'm here."

Party strategists who have studied Connecticut said Lieberman faces a challenging general election campaign running as an independent. But they said the fact that he had closed a sizable gap in the last week was reason for cautious optimism inside the Lieberman camp.

A CBS-New York Times exit poll found that 61 percent of those who voted in the primary said Lieberman should not run as an independent.

The party establishment's embrace of Lamont began shortly before Lieberman's concession speech. Reid, Schumer and Hillary Clinton phoned in with congratulations and offers of assistance. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) wrote a $5,000 check to the Lamont campaign and said he will pitch in as needed. Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), a war opponent who campaigned with Lieberman last month, offered to return to help Lamont.

Prospective 2008 Democratic presidential candidates also pledged their support. Asked by reporters in New York whether Lieberman should quit the race, Sen. Clinton said, "He has to search his conscience and decide what is best for Connecticut and for the Democratic Party, and then do what's right."

Tom Swan, Lamont's campaign manager, said his team will begin to pivot to a larger audience, by stressing Lamont's domestic priorities, including health coverage for uninsured people and early childhood education.

Two big challenges for Lieberman will be retaining some of the crucial institutional support that he gained in the primary, particularly from unions, which were instrumental in his Election Day turnout effort. But Lamont also must demonstrate that he can attract a broader audience than he did in the primary.

The Connecticut AFL-CIO decided to back Lieberman about a month before the primary and played a key role in turning out voters for him on Tuesday. President John Olsen said the state labor group will decide later whether to endorse anyone in the general election.

In a round of television interviews on Wednesday, Lieberman criticized the Lamont campaign, and said he is in the race to stay. "For me, it is a cause, and it is a cause not to let this Democratic Party that I joined with the inspiration of President Kennedy in 1960 to be taken over by people who are so far from the mainstream of American life," he said.

Gerstein said Lieberman had asked for resignations because he had concluded he "needed to shake things up and move in a different direction." Among the casualties were longtime consultants Carter Eskew, who produced Lieberman's ads, and the polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner.

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