Correction to This Article
An Aug. 10 article incorrectly described data on support for Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell as being based on voting in the last gubernatorial election. Rell assumed the governorship after the resignation of her predecessor; she was not elected. Current polling data indicate that half the state's women support both the Republican governor and a Democratic House candidate in this fall's elections.

Jury Out on Lieberman Effect

By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 10, 2006

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's decision to run as an independent against Ned Lamont, Connecticut's new Democratic nominee for Senate, will mean that three marquee U.S. House races in the state will have to share top billing in November with a bitter rematch that could divert money and publicity from those critical contests.

That could complicate Democrats' designs to win those races as part of an effort to seize control of the House. But by keeping the state's electorate focused on President Bush and the war in Iraq, the Lamont-Lieberman rematch will keep voters energized, and may ultimately bolster the House challengers, Democrats and some independent analysts said.

"Lieberman will do more for Democratic House candidates by being in the race than by not being in the race," said Ken Dautrich, a professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut. "It's plausible that all three [GOP House incumbents] will fall, and it's more likely if Lieberman is running as an independent."

Democrats need to win 15 seats to gain control of the U.S. House, and Connecticut -- with its strong anti-Bush undercurrents -- represents potentially one-fifth of that total. Democrats think they have a good chance of unseating Republican Reps. Nancy L. Johnson, Christopher Shays and Rob Simmons.

But Lamont's stunning defeat of Lieberman sent both parties back to their playbooks yesterday. Lamont toppled Lieberman in Tuesday's primary by attacking his long-standing support for Bush's Iraq war policies, and Lieberman has vowed to fight back in the general election as an independent.

In no contest will the political lines be as scrambled as in Diane Farrell's House race against Shays, a moderate Republican who has also run into trouble because of his support for the war. Farrell endorsed Lieberman in the primary, then switched to Lamont after he won. Lieberman is backing Farrell, but Shays had allied himself with Lieberman because of their similar views on the war.

"Truth to tell, I'm ambivalent toward it," Farrell said of the Lamont-Lieberman rematch. "But I can't control it. My single focus is Chris Shays right now and his connection to President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress."

Even Democratic partisans said the rematch would distract activists' attention from the House races. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee "will have to deal with the fact that this race will continue to suck oxygen from great pickup opportunities" in the House contests, blogger Markos Moulitsas wrote on his liberal Daily Kos Web site.

However, DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel argued -- and Dautrich agreed -- that the Senate campaign's focus on Bush and his Iraq war policies will keep the electorate trained on large national questions, not the local issues that favor incumbents.

Republican strategists see things differently, noting that Democrats may neglect to woo independents to the Democratic House campaigns if they are too busy fighting among themselves over the Senate race. Republicans have done their best to foster that division. Shays vowed yesterday to vote for Lieberman, and Johnson blessed Lieberman's independent bid.

"I have the highest respect for Joe as a statesman and public servant who has conducted himself with dignity and honor representing Connecticut," Johnson said. "Joe certainly has every right to run as an independent in the general election when every voter in Connecticut can decide who they want as their next senator."

Lieberman could prove more successful than Republican Alan Schlesinger in the Senate contest at bringing out GOP voters to oppose Lamont.

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