GOP deserting its candidate to back Lieberman in Conn.

Senator lost in the Democratic primary, is running as an independent

The Nation Votes 2006

August 19, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Facing Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's independent candidacy, Republican officials at the state and national level have made the extraordinary decision to abandon their official candidate, and some are actively working to help Lieberman win in November.

Despite Lieberman's position that he would continue to caucus with Democrats if re-elected, all three Republican congressional candidates in Connecticut have praised Lieberman and have not endorsed the party's nominee, Alan Schlesinger.

An independent group with Republican ties is raising money for Lieberman, who has been a strong supporter of President Bush on the Iraq war.

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, although he has said he would support the Republican nominee, is not planning to campaign for him and allowed two of his aides to consult with the Lieberman camp before the Aug. 8 Democratic primary.

Newt Gingrich, a Republican who was once speaker of the House of Representatives, has endorsed Lieberman's re-election bid.

Some Republicans are quietly rooting for Lieberman's Democratic opponent, Ned Lamont, because they feel Lamont would be a polarizing liberal target. But many leading Republicans say it would serve the party better to have a centrist such as Lieberman remain in office, particularly after being spurned by his own party.

There is little to no talk of bolstering Schlesinger, 48, the Republican nominee, a former mayor of Derby who has registered polling numbers so low that they are breaking records for unpopularity. Little known throughout the state, Schlesinger received attention this summer after reports in The Hartford Courant that he had gambled under a fake name and once owed gambling debts. He has dismissed the accounts as irrelevant.

Schlesinger has reacted bitterly to being rejected by his party and has dismissed calls for him to leave the race. He maintains that he can win by conveying his conservative platform to voters.

"Washington and the media have attempted to hijack this election and turn it into a referendum on the future of the national Democratic Party," Schlesinger said in an interview yesterday. "Their interest is not in electing a Republican in Connecticut, or anyone in particular in Connecticut."

Republican doubts about Schlesinger were crystallized when the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, refused Monday to say that the White House would endorse Schlesinger. Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, pledged to "stay out of this one."

All major national Republican groups are withholding their fundraising and organizational support for Schlesinger, creating a vacuum for Lieberman, as the centrist in the race, to fill.

"The right thing for people who believe the world is deeply dangerous is to re-elect Lieberman," Gingrich said. That is especially true, he said, because "the Republican Party's own candidate does not have any possibility of winning."

Initially, in the days after Lamont's victory, Republican officials had feelers out for a stronger Republican candidate than Schlesinger, according to strategists with close ties to the party and the White House.

One strategist said the fear was that a hard-fought race between Lamont and Lieberman would spur Democratic turnout, which, he said, could harm vulnerable Republicans in the state, such as Rep. Christopher Shays and Rep. Rob Simmons.

Republicans were always pessimistic about finding a replacement who could win the Senate race outright in largely Democratic Connecticut, but they had hoped to find someone who could excite Republican voters enough to offset a feared surge of Democratic votes in November.

But in the days since the primary, concerns about a Democratic surge have subsided. Lieberman appears to be inspiring enthusiasm, even among Republicans, helped in part by the lack of institutional enthusiasm for his Republican rival.

The Lieberman campaign has largely played down the Republican support, aware that the Lamont campaign is likely to use it in an effort to alienate Democrats and independents.

"Part of the problem here is that everyone outside of Connecticut wants to glom onto this race, wants to put their own spin on it and wants to use it for their own advantages," said Dan Gerstein, a Lieberman adviser. "We are not interested in being anyone's political football."

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