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South of the Border: Joe Said “It Ain’t So…”

Downtown Hartford (wikipedia)
Today we start a new segment on WMassP&I.  While the state of Connecticut is not our focus, its fate is inexorably tied to that of Western Massachusetts or at least that of the greater Springfield area.  Springfield and Hartford share  transportation infrastructure (rail, highway and airport) and a number of economic and demographic qualities and challenges.  Indeed, Springfield is closer to Hartford than Boston and were not for a quirk in history, William Pynchon, Springfield’s founder, may have joined his settlement with  the Connecticut colony.

Today, senior US Senator Joseph Lieberman announced that he would not seek reelection in 2012.  Lieberman is famous for being Al Gore’s running mate in 2000, running for president in 2004, and then losing the Democratic nomination in 2006 to newcomer Ned Lamont only the win anyway as an independent.  In the four years since that election, Lieberman has been an “Independent Democrat.”  He caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate and he took a notable role in the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell during this past lame duck session.
Sen. Lieberman (wikipedia)
However, Lieberman had become a thorn in the side to many Democrats, particularly when Lieberman appeared at the Republican convention in 2008 to endorse John McCain.  Reportedly, he refused to sign onto the public option in last year’s health care debate out of spite for the liberal groups that had ousted him from 2006 Senate nomination.

Still, his victory in 2006 is attributed largely to Republican support and a nearly non-existent Republican candidate.  Ned Lamont simply could not muster the support from independents to topple Lieberman.  Lamont had an uphill fight anyway, popular Republican Governor Jodi Rell, who recently left the Connecticut governor’s mansion, attracted moderates and moderate Republicans herself in significant numbers having a down-ticket effect to Lieberman’s benefit.

If Lieberman’s career is taken in whole, rather than in part, it remains somewhat admirable.  In his own estimate, Lieberman was conservative internationally, but liberal domestically.  The record does hold up on that front for the most part.  He has been a fairly consistent champion of labor, environment, and gay rights among others.  However, he has been downright strident on national defense and foreign policy.  Where the conservatism tended to leech into domestic side came where the two crossed paths.  His free trade advocacy naturally had conflicts with his labor ties.  In addition, Lieberman would often be the Democratic face worrying about social issues.

Nearly every news source covering the retirement have noted that Lieberman wanted to get out while he could conceivably still win.  The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee appeared prepared to support him at the moment and Lieberman contributed heavily to Harry Reid’s own bitter battle for reelection last fall.  While Lieberman nurses that belief in the here and now, the truth is that by 2012, Democrats will probably have had enough of him and Republicans would not be interested in having any of him.

Susan Bysiewicz (wikipedia)
While it is really too early to have any concrete campaign, the potential candidates are coming out of the woodwork.  Former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz threw her hat into the ring, somewhat impulsively, yesterday when rumors of Lieberman’s retirement began leaking.  Bysiewicz has name recognition and pretty broad appeal, but her career was tarnished by starts and stops during last year’s statewide campaigns, ballot problems in Bridgeport, and a determination that she used a state database inappropriately.

Two congressmen from Connecticut are also on the shortlist, Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney.  Murphy’s district consists of Northwestern Connecticut along with New Britain, Meriden, and Cheshire.  Courtney represents virtually all of Connecticut’s eastern half.  While both have expressed interest, Murphy’s expressions of interest seem more explicit than Courtney’s.

Cong. Chris Murphy (Official House Site)
While several Conn. congressmen, in theory, may have been facing headwinds in the last election, many thought Chris Murphy  the incumbent most likely to fall with the possible exception of Fairfield County’s Jim Himes.  Ultimately, however, Murphy prevailed and by a respectable margin.  By way of comparison, Litchfield County, which is entirely within Murphy’s district, voted for Linda McMahon over Richard Blumenthal, the only county in Connecticut to do so.  Murphy is also the youngest member of the Nutmeg State’s congressional delegation.  Murphy has yet to make any official announcement.

On the Republican side, things become more iffy.  Linda McMahon, in her concession speech left the door open to a future run. However, despite spending more money per vote earned than even California’s Meg Whitman, an eBay exec, (who also lost), many in both parties are skeptical of her chances.  Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley and would-be candidate Rob Simmons, a former Congressman, are also mentioned.

Lieberman’s retirement is less problematic for Senate Democrats than that of Kent Conrad in North Dakota.  The Dakotas have increasingly swung to Republicans in recent years.  The Democrats also have more seats to defend than Republicans in 2012.  In our estimation, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Virginia, assuming no other retirements occur may present the the greatest challenges for Democrats to hold.  However, both Nevada and Massachusetts (that is Scott Brown) could be potential pickups especially in a presidential year.