(Host) Today in our series on the home-state records of the Democratic presidential candidates we look at Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. While many thought his name recognition from the 2000 election would put him near the top of the field today, his moderate history is not lighting a fire at home.
From WNPR Connecticut Public Radio, Heather Claborn reports.
(Claborn) In January, Connecticut’s junior senator returned to his alma mater, Stamford High School, to make an announcement that many had expected for years:
(Lieberman) “Yes, I am ready to announce today that I am a candidate for president of the United States in 2004. And I intend to win!”
(Claborn) The small auditorium was packed with former classmates who twice chose him class president. For years Lieberman was the most popular politician in the state. His job approval ratings during his tenure as state attorney general and senator have long hovered around 70 percent.
(Lieberman) “Hey there’s nothin’ like a hometown crowd, is there?”
(Claborn) But his support at home is not what it used to be.
(Sound of telephone poll) “Do you approve or disapprove of the way Joseph Lieberman is handling his job as United State senator?”
(Claborn) Callers from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute are conducting a new survey of Lieberman’s popularity. Poll Director Doug Schwartz says that when Al Gore picked the Senator as his running mate, Lieberman’s job approval set a state record.
(Schwartz) “He was close to 90 percent job approval rating among Democrats when he was selected. And that has dropped down to about a 60 percent job approval rating – among Democrats! I mean, he should be doing much better among Democrats. And part of the reason why he has slipped may be because he is running for president and people may say, ‘you know he should be spending more time paying attention to the folks from Connecticut.'”
(Claborn) In Quinnipiac’s most recent poll of Connecticut voters, Lieberman received a near all-time low job approval rating of 52 percent. But Schwartz says Lieberman needs to be equally concerned about another trend. Over the past six months, the Senator has lost 20 points, while former Vermont Governor Howard Dean has picked up 20 points in a primary match-up. Dean is gaining ground in the state in large part due to his attacks on President Bush’s policies.
(Ed Marcus) “The problem with Joe Lieberman is that he is ‘Bush lite.’ I mean if you want another George Bush, then support Joe Lieberman.”
(Claborn) Ed Marcus is the former head of the state Democratic Party, and a longtime political rival. Despite their differences, Marcus has worked to get Lieberman elected to the Senate. Now, he’s working on the Dean presidential campaign:
(Marcus) “Joe is very strong in his support of the Iraqi war. Joe has just flip-flopped on so many issues. You know, he’s for affirmative action now, he was against it in 1995. You don’t know where he stands. There isn’t any firmness to his positions. At one point I would say that he could have been considered the moral conscience of the U.S. Senate. Not anymore. He’s kinda lost that, he’s lost me and he’s lost an awful lot of Democrats in the state of Connecticut.”
(David Lightman) “Most of his views, are in fact very much in line with the Democratic Party.”
(Claborn) David Lightman, Washington Bureau Chief for the Hartford Courant, has followed Joe Lieberman since he arrived in the Senate in 1989.
(Lightman) “If you look at his voting record, he pretty much votes the way Senator Dodd does, or Senator Kennedy or Senator Kerry – the two Massachusetts senators. But, in some other ways, Lieberman is different. He was very much a supporter of toppling Saddam Hussein, as early as April 1991. He’s very much a supporter of faith-based initiatives. So he’s taken a somewhat different path from most Democrats.”
(Claborn) And this, more moderate path is why some Democrats in the state still support his presidential bid. Audrey Blondin, is a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, and a coordinator for Lieberman’s campaign:
(Blondin) “When you look at a map of the election in 2000 there were the blue states, and the red states. And I believe that Joe is the only Democrat that can win in the so-called red states, the more conservative, the more family value oriented states.”
(Claborn) But before he gets the opportunity to win those red states, Lieberman has to survive the Democratic primaries. He’s skipping the Iowa Caucuses, and focusing a lot of attention on New Hampshire. The experts warn that he can’t be counted out yet. But they agree that Joe Lieberman’s got an uphill battle ahead of him, when the polls show him barely winning at home.
For the Home-State Record project, I’m Heather Claborn.
(Host) On Thursday in our series on the home-state records of the Democratic candidates: former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley Braun.