Senate candidates look at Conn. race

Lieberman's defeat may offer lessons

Maryland Votes 2006

August 10, 2006|By MATTHEW HAY BROWN | MATTHEW HAY BROWN,SUN REPORTER

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's loss this week in the Connecticut Democratic primary election has left Maryland's Senate hopefuls trying to assess what lessons, if any, can be gleaned from the surprisingly powerful campaign run by antiwar upstart Ned Lamont.

On the Democratic side in particular, the campaigns of candidates looking to replace retiring Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes were attempting to burnish their antiwar credentials after the stunning victory Tuesday by Lamont.

Lamont is a relative novice whose insurgency has drawn fuel from Internet activists angered by Lieberman's support of the Iraq war and supposed chumminess with President Bush.

"This is really a kind of discussion between the Democratic rank and file and their leadership all over the country," said Matthew A. Crenson, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University. "What the voters were telling Lieberman is we want to hear a clearly stated position from you about things like Iraq that distinguishes you from the president and is clear and shows some courage. And I think a lot of Democrats haven't heard that yet."

The Connecticut results also offer a warning for Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the likely Republican nominee, said Frostburg State University political science professor John N. Bambacus.

"The outcome of the race in Connecticut is a clear indicator of voter alienation toward the war, which is not helpful to Mr. Steele," Bambacus said.

In a position statement posted on his campaign Web site this week, Steele said he favored improving conditions in Iraq so that troops could be brought home, but said setting a timetable for the process would play into the hands of the enemy - a position closely aligned with that of Bush.

A Sun poll last month showed that 59 percent of Marylanders believe the United States should begin withdrawing forces from Iraq gradually. Fifteen percent believe troops should be pulled out immediately.

The fact that Steele "came out with a statement that was very similar to Senator Lieberman does not bode well," Bambacus said.

Cook Political Report editor Jennifer Duffy said Lieberman's support for the war was only one factor in his defeat.

In primary losses this week by Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, a Georgia Democrat, and Rep. Joe Schwarz, a Michigan Republican, she sensed a larger dissatisfaction.

"You can only draw the conclusion that voters are in a surly mood," she said. "They're not all that happy with the status quo, and they're willing to vote against incumbents."

State Republican spokeswoman Audra Miller said that Lieberman's loss appeared to show that "the Democratic Party believes in eating their own." While polls show a majority of Americans now oppose the war, she said, a larger majority opposes bringing troops home immediately.

A spokesman for former U.S. representative and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chief Kweisi Mfume said Lamont's victory indicated that the party faithful want change in Washington. Mfume and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin are the top contenders for the Democratic nomination.

"It certainly shows that 2006 is not going to be the year of coronations," Mfume spokesman Steve Marinoff said, echoing a similar refrain that the campaign has used in referring to Cardin. "Democratic voters are not going to let the party establishment dictate who they should vote for."

The Cardin campaign drew a different lesson.

"It reaffirms that voters are looking for courageous, principled leaders who will stand up to President Bush, like Ben Cardin did when he voted against the war in Iraq," spokesman Oren Shur said in a statement. "It's easy to talk about opposing the war now, but Ben Cardin voted `no' when speaking out wasn't so popular - because it was the right thing to do."

Among the candidates for the Democratic nomination, Duffy said, Allan J. Lichtman, an American University history professor, might have the most effective message on Iraq. Lichtman has pledged to vote against any continued funding for the war.

"These voters in the Democratic Party recognize the folly and injustice of this war," said Lichtman.

The Democrats, he said, "are going to punish those who have not been in the vanguard of proposing an end to the war, and reward those who have taken the lead on this issue."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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