Lieberman drops from race, promises to back nominee

He says he'll still fight for causes he believes in

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

February 04, 2004|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

ARLINGTON, Va. - With no victories after last night's round of Democratic contests and a centrist message that held little attraction for primary voters, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman ended his presidential bid last night, saying he would continue to "fight for the causes we campaigned for."

"Am I disappointed? Naturally," he told supporters who crowded into a small hotel ballroom here, some hugging each other in consolation. "Am I proud of what we stood for in this campaign? You bet I am."

Surrounded on stage by his family and Connecticut politicians, Lieberman vowed to throw his support behind whoever emerged as the Democratic nominee. The only Democratic candidate who continued to support the Iraq war, Lieberman said he still believed the "mainstream voice" he offered was the right choice for his party and the country.

"In this campaign, I may not have shouted the loudest," he said, "but I am proud that I took the toughest positions in support of what I believe was right for our great country, even when it wasn't popular."

The defeated candidate left the ballroom to the recorded tune of Frank Sinatra's "My Way."

Lieberman had called yesterday's round of elections the "Super Bowl" of Democratic races, and strategists said it would have been impossible for him to continue without any victories. Of the $14 million he raised last year, he had only $350,000 left at year's end.

Lieberman had been pinning his hopes on Delaware, a state with only 15 delegates but the only place where a recent poll showed he had a shot of winning. But he placed a distant second behind Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

For a candidate who started the presidential race with frontrunner status in national polls - because of name recognition he received as Al Gore's popular and amiable running mate in 2000 - Lieberman's quick fade to the back of the Democratic pack was stunningly swift.

In a year when Howard Dean's fierce anti-war message fired up Democrats, Lieberman's centrist views - his defense of President Bush's foreign policy and boasts of working hand-in-hand with Republicans - were a mismatch with primary voters motivated by a fervent hostility toward the administration.

Alone among the Democratic hopefuls, Lieberman stuck by his decision to back the resolution authorizing Bush to invade Iraq and said he still remained convinced that going to war was the right thing to do.

Campaign adviser Mandy Grunwald said last night, "It just wasn't his time. He was very clear about his convictions and beliefs and refused to bend or change for any reason. It wasn't the right fit with the electorate this year."

His supporters said they were frustrated that his character and integrity didn't shine through the noise of the campaign. "It's very hard to see a candidate with so much integrity and the people not seeing that," said Andrew Blanchard, a Lieberman supporter from Washington, D.C.

Marty Dunleavy, who had resigned as political director of the American Federation of Government Employees to campaign for his longtime friend, said he felt sad for Lieberman but was "proud of the campaign he waged and glad Connecticut is going to keep a great senator."

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