As an Independent, Lieberman Leads the Field

Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr. gives Bernice Yohn an autograph.
Senate candidate Bob Casey Jr. gives Bernice Yohn an autograph. (By J.d. Cavrich -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza and Charles Babington
Sunday, August 20, 2006

After Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman came up short against businessman and Iraq war opponent Ned Lamont in Connecticut's Democratic primary earlier this month, there was considerable speculation that the long-term incumbent's formidable status in the state would crumble now that he is running as an independent.

It is still a long way to Nov. 7, but early evidence is that Lieberman is still standing plenty tall -- and taller than either of his two opponents.

Lieberman holds a 53 percent to 41 percent lead over Lamont among those most likely to vote in November, while Alan Schlesinger, the Republican candidate, gets just 4 percent. The survey was conducted by Quinnipiac University.

Lieberman's continued viability as a candidate was underscored Friday with his announcement that he had brought on two new campaign hands. One of the most sought-after Republican pollsters -- Public Opinion Strategies' Neil Newhouse -- has agreed to handle the survey research for Lieberman's general election campaign. Newhouse also polls for Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) and Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) but has never worked for a Democratic candidate. Lieberman's media campaign will be overseen by Josh Isay, who advised New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R) in 2005. Isay's move isn't likely to sit well with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- chairman of Senate Democrats' campaign arm -- for whom Isay worked in 1998.

The Quinnipiac poll also showed that Lieberman has become the de facto Republican nominee. Seventy-five percent of Republicans backed the incumbent, compared with 13 percent for Lamont and 10 percent for Schlesinger. Asked whether Lieberman deserves reelection, 80 percent of Republicans said yes, compared with 57 percent of independents and 32 percent of Democrats.

While these numbers should provide some solace for Lieberman allies, they also show two challenges.

Lieberman must hope that most Republican voters stick with him rather than defect to Schlesinger, who, despite President Bush's neutrality in the race, is offering himself as the real Republican.

The more important question in deciding Lieberman's fate is whether the 35 percent of Democrats supporting him in the Quinnipiac poll will abandon him in favor of Lamont. Given Connecticut's Democratic tendencies, if voters perceive the race to be between a Democrat who opposes the war in Iraq (Lamont) and a Republican-leaning independent who supports it (Lieberman), the challenger is the favorite, analysts say.

Greens to Santorum's Rescue

Any notion that Democrats could oust Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) without a tough fight has vanished, as a new poll shows the race tightening while Democrats struggle to keep a Green Party candidate off the ballot.

For months, Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. has led by double digits, according to a variety of polls. But a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed him leading Santorum 48 to 42 percent among likely voters. The change occurred after Santorum's campaign poured more than $3 million into a seven-week statewide television ad campaign, far outstripping Casey's modest effort, focused only on the Pittsburgh area.

The poll contained another nettlesome detail for Casey, the state treasurer and son of a popular former governor: Five percent of those surveyed backed Carl Romanelli, the Green Party nominee. That's not a big number, but it could prove decisive in a tight race, and Green Party candidates tend to draw more votes from Democrats than from Republicans. That's why Santorum's allies bankrolled the effort to put Romanelli on the Nov. 7 ballot, and why Casey's allies have gone to court to challenge it.

GOP and Green Party operatives submitted 95,000 signatures, hoping to meet the 67,070 threshold needed to put the third party on the ballot. But Democrats are challenging about 70,000 of them, claiming fraud and other wrongdoing.

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