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Joe Lieberman blazes his own path

By A. James Memmott

March 10, 2008 at 8:30am

Perhaps it’s time to redefine “Joementum.”

Running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic candidate for vice president in 2000, declared that his campaign was picking up Joementum going into the New Hampshire primary.

He went on to finish fifth in New Hampshire, didn’t do well in the next round of primaries and dropped out of the race. So much for Joementum.

Lieberman’s Joementum seemed even worse in 2006 when Connecticut Democrats, angered by the senator’s support of the war in Iraq, didn’t nominate him for re-election. Instead, they choose Ned Lamont, a telecommunications executive.

Rallying, Lieberman ran as an independent and won.

Now serving his fourth Senate term, Lieberman, 66, continues to caucus with Senate Democrats, giving them the majority they need to retain control.

But on Dec. 17, 2007, Lieberman, though nominally a Democrat, sided with a Republican candidate for president, endorsing Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCain went on to lose in Iowa in early January. But then, to the surprise of pollsters and analysts, McCain won in New Hampshire a few days later.

No one was saying the Lieberman endorsement was the deal sealer with voters. However, it didn’t hurt with moderate Republicans and those independents who choose to vote in the Republican primary, analysts said.

More McCain victories followed, and now McCain has more than enough delegates to receive the nomination, and Lieberman finds himself on a winning team.

“Thus far, his endorsement of Mr. McCain in December, when the polls had him as a long shot, has paid off like the daily double at Belmont. He has garnered attention and, as yet, paid no price in power or prestige,” Michael Powell wrote in The New York Times last month, even before McCain had clinched the nomination.

Now that the messy work of primary campaigning is over, McCain has to choose a running mate. Lieberman downplays suggestions that he will join with McCain and make another try for the vice presidency.

“Oh, no, no,” he told the Times. “Been there, done that.”

And even though he and McCain are long-time friends and share similar feelings about the U.S. remaining in Iraq, Lieberman does have positions (pro-choice, for one) that might not play well with the Republican base.

Beyond that, given McCain’s concept of the vice presidency, the job could be a step down from serving in the Senate.

“The vice president really only has two duties,” McCain has said. “One is to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, as you well know. And the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president.”

But Lieberman has indicated that, if asked, he would speak in praise of McCain at the Republican convention.

This, of course, would do nothing but anger his Democratic colleagues, though they would probably keep their feelings to themselves. They still need him to hold on to the Senate.

Regardless, Lieberman has shown he doesn’t need the approval of the party that turned on him in 2006.

“I had some of my most profoundly disappointing moments in that election,” he told the Times. “In the end, I came out profoundly liberated.”

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