Friday, February 25, 2005

Lieberman's bond with Bush angers some liberal Democrats

The Advocate

Lieberman's bond with Bush angers some liberal Democrats

By Neil Vigdor
Staff Writer

February 25, 2005

Many Democrats know it simply as "the kiss."

But when U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., exchanged a public display of affection with President Bush after this month's State of the Union address, the gesture signaled a long kiss goodbye for some liberal Democrats in the senator's home state.

Predominantly anti-war in their beliefs, Lieberman's critics say the senator has alienated himself from the party's liberal wing with his alliances with Bush on issues such as Iraq and Cabinet nominations, and should be challenged in next year's Democratic primary.

"I think Senator Lieberman has been behaving much more like a Republican than a Democrat, and I think he needs to take another look at his constituents," said Kim Hynes, a Democrat from Lieberman's hometown of Stamford. "We live in a blue state and most people are opposed to the current administration."

Aides to Lieberman, who celebrated his 63rd birthday yesterday by adding another $100,000 to his campaign war chest, defended the third-term senator's record and said he is committed to representing the people of Connecticut.

"He tries to do what he thinks is right for Connecticut and the country," Lieberman spokeswoman Casey Aden-Wansbury said. "That sometimes means making decisions that others on the right and left are going to disagree with."

Key party stalwarts continue to back Lieberman, including state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy and Nancy DiNardo, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.

Hynes, who ran unsuccessfully for the General Assembly last year, is not alone, however.

"I think it would be a very healthy thing for Lieberman to be challenged in a Democratic primary," said Mary Sullivan, a former Democratic National Committee member from Riverside. "It might make him more accountable or responsive to the sentiment of Democratic voters in the state."

Sullivan, like Hynes and several other Lieberman critics, volunteered for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's failed White House bid last year.

Dean, who endeared himself

to liberals with his hard-line opposition to the war and founding of the grass-roots political organization Dem-ocracy for America, became chairman of the Democratic National Committee earlier this month.

Following the blueprint of Democracy for America, some of Lieberman's critics are trying to use the Internet to bolster support for their cause, which has been informally named, "Dump Joe."

"Are the Dean people unhappy with Joe? You bet," said Ed Anderson, a Democrat from New Haven, where Lieberman currently resides. "I'm not voting for Joe again."

From Lieberman's vote to authorize the president to go to war to his endorsement of Alberto Gonzales for U.S. attorney general despite questions about his advice to the White House on prisoners of war, Anderson criticized the senator's positions on a number of issues, as well as his appearance on conservative television programs.

"If he were to forswear Fox News and was to start talking as critically about the Republicans as he does our own party, I might give him a second chance," said Anderson, who volunteered for Dean and is a member of Democracy for America.

Lieberman's critics spoke optimistically about mounting a challenge within their party in the August 2006 primary, but polls and the incumbent's fund-raising paint a much different picture.

A challenger would have to submit signatures of at least 2 percent of registered party members statewide -- about 12,600 people -- to petition his or her way onto the ballot against Lieberman.

Those numbers contrast with Lieberman's 69 percent ap-proval rating in a Feb. 18 Quinnipiac University poll -- a survey not limited to Democrats -- and $432,059 cash the senator had on hand for his re-election campaign as of a Dec. 31, according to the Federal Elec-tion Commission.

On the eve of his birthday, Lieberman added $100,000 to his campaign war chest at a private fund-raiser at the Greenwich home of dermatologist Andy Bronin.

Among the attendees were Blumenthal and Greenwich Democratic Town Committee Chairman Jim Himes.

"He may not always be in the safest position politically, but he charts a course and he does what he thinks is right," said Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident. "I can't say I always agree with him 100 percent of the time, but I admire him tremendously and support him."

Himes also pledged his support for Lieberman.

"I think he's an interesting guy to watch," Himes said. "He's been very forward on security issues and a lot of times that has him aligned with the president. I think the possibility of a primary is not out of the question. I think the notion of the guy not being the candidate is."

Former Greenwich First Selectman Richard Bergstresser, Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell and Stamford's Malloy, all Democrats, also defended Lieberman.

"I have friends in the party who think Joe is too conservative on cultural issues, and some other people may disagree with him on Middle East policy, (but) I haven't found a whole lot of people that are saying disagreements are such that we need a new senator," Malloy said.

Lieberman also received a major vote of confidence from DiNardo, who recently became chairwoman of the state's Democratic Party.

"He takes a lot of time making any decisions that he makes," DiNardo said. "He does not take his job lightly."

But what about "the kiss?"

Lieberman's aides and supporters made light of the exchange, in which Bush pecked Lieberman on the cheek after a brief embrace.

For the senator's critics, however, the moment will live in infamy.

"I'm not upset with the

kiss at the State of the Union," said Nathan Karnes, a member of the New Haven Democratic Town Committee and Democracy for America. "It's exactly what we needed. It's symbolic of why Joe Lieberman needs to be challenged."