Monday, April 11, 2005

Is Lieberman Really Unbeatable?

Last week, when this poll came out showing Lieberman with huge favorability numbers, I took a lot of heat for my comments that we should challenge Joe in the primary anyway. The counter argument to this was Joe was unbeatable with positive numbers like that, and challenging him was essentially eating our own while wasting valuable resources that could be used elsewhere. So the question remains: Is Joe Lieberman unbeatable to the point where challenging him would be a waste of time and resources?

Based on some research posted at Kos by DavidNYC and some new information from the CT Democratic party Kos posted last night, it looks to me like challenging Lieberman might have more than a little merit as he's is not as unbeatable as he might look.

First that poll. DavidNYC posted a comparison of Lieberman's poll with the same type of poll for Sen. Arlen Specter. From his post:
Lieberman job approval among CT Democrats:
Approve: 66
Disapprove: 23
Don't Know: 11

That looks pretty strong, no? [Liberman's] 66-23 approval rating doesn't exactly suggest vulnerability to a primary challenge. But check out these numbers from what I feel is a very closely analogous situation:

Specter job approval among PA Republicans:
Approve: 61
Disapprove: 20
Don't Know: 20

This poll was taken in February of 2003, a little over a year before the PA Senate primary in 2004 - in other words, roughly in the same timeframe as the Lieberman Q-Poll (the CT primary should take place in August of 2006, if I'm not mistaken). Again, those numbers certainly didn't make Arlen Specter look at-risk.
So the corollary is drawn that both Specter and Lieberman, over a year out from their primaries, looked unbeatable. But the comparison that David was drawing today took on another similarity. Lieberman, like Specter, is not exactly making the party faithful all that happy. From Myrna Watanabe, Connecticut Democratic State Central Committee member, via Swing State Project: (emphasis mine)
If the state Democratic convention were held right now, Lieberman wouldn't have the votes to get the nomination without doing some very, very, very serious arm twisting--and even then he might not have the votes. Maybe the population still likes Joe Lieberman, but his friends in the Democratic Party are having second or third thoughts about him. To some it's the votes, to others it's the war, to still others it's the Dem-bashing rhetoric, while others are concerned about the spectacle of Lieberman at Bush's elbow when Bush signs some particularly un-Democratic piece of legislation. But even more telling is that his good friends, people who've known him for 20 or 30 years and who came into politics with him or came up in the party with him, don't want to be associated with him. Months and months ago, many of them, independently, contacted Joe or his close associates and made it clear that Joe was doing himself and the party no good by kowtowing to the Bushies and by continuing his strong support of the war.
The unbeatable Lieberman wouldn't have the votes to get the nomination from his own party according to someone inside his own state party. Now back to David's comparison with Specter:
But he was seen as being out-of-step with his party faithful (indeed, like Joe, Arlen's approval among Dems was actually slightly higher than among GOPers). And he was indeed challenged vigorously. You could describe it as a "challenge from the right," but I think it's also valid to say that Pat Toomey represented those who wanted to challenge Specter for his perceived disloyalty to the GOP - in other words, for reasons not dissimilar to those many of us put forth for unseating Joe. And remember what happened:
PA GOP Senate Primary Results
Specter: 51
Toomey: 49
Phew! That was close! Specter won by just 17,000 votes out of over a million cast - when not long before the election, he had a 3-to-1 approval rating among his own party members. Pretty remarkable that Toomey came so incredibly close to unseating an incumbent senator in a primary - but perhaps not all that surprising.
It seems Joe is ticking off the base and not making friends at the state party level. So I'd argue that Lieberman isn't as unbeatable as he seems. It still remains to be seen as there are several problems with challenging him:

1. As of right now there is not strong challenger out there running.
2. The challenge from the Right against Specter had the benefit of the Right's organization. Will the Democratic challenger that faces Lieberman see the same level of organization from the progressive Democrats?

I see more of a problem with the lack of a challenger than the question of how much support a challenger might receive from Democrats, especially the grassroots. Find a quality challenger for Joe, and watch people come out of the wood work to support him or her.

But regardless, in my opinion, challenging Joe is still a good idea. Breaking ranks and undermining the party as Joe is so fond of doing should not be tolerated. Challenging Lieberman requires him to explain his support of GOP positions, gives him a reality check from his constituents and his state party, and provides the shot across the bow he needs to stop providing aide to the GOP.

Such a challenge may not be successful. It may open up the seat to a GOP challenger. But it may also result in a strong candidate who supports Democratic positions, the Democratic party and in general, and the grass and net roots movements. To me, this is worth it.