Conn. Democrats still wary of Lieberman

But some in base willing to offer an olive branch

Senator Joe Lieberman said he has been heartened by the kind words he received. Senator Joe Lieberman said he has been heartened by the kind words he received. (Alex Brandon/ Associated Press)
By Susan Haigh
Associated Press / December 25, 2010

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HARTFORD — Audrey Blondin likes that Senator Joe Lieberman led the fight in Washington to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military, but that doesn’t mean all is forgiven.

As with other state Democratic activists, Blondin is still smarting from the Connecticut senator’s appearance at the Republican National Convention in 2008, his endorsement of GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain, and his criticism of President Obama during the campaign — not to mention his strong support of the Iraq war.

Getting the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ law repealed doesn’t fully make up for that, she said.

“Certainly it’s good to see that happening, but in the larger context that’s one issue of many issues where I think that Senator Lieberman has lost touch with the Democratic base here in Connecticut,’’ said Blondin, a 30-year party veteran who attempted to have the party censure Lieberman two years ago.

“The train has way too far left the station for Joe to ever come back,’’ she said.

Lieberman has been a politician without a party in Connecticut since he was reelected to the US Senate in 2006 as an independent after losing the Democratic primary. Although he still caucuses with the Democrats in Washington, Lieberman has had little interaction with the Connecticut party faithful in recent years. He doesn’t appear at state party functions. He hasn’t spoken with the chairwoman in a year.

The senator is up for reelection in 2012 for a fifth term, and it is unclear which banner — Democratic, Republican, or independent — Lieberman might team up with, or whether the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate will even run again. Lieberman said he hasn’t made up his mind. He expects to make an announcement before the end of January.

“It’s a difficult decision for me because I really have loved my service here in the Senate, and I feel privileged to be here,’’ he said. “I guess the question is — and I think you’ve always got to ask is — ‘Now, after 22 years, 24 years after this term is over, do I want to do it again? Or, do I want to try something else?’ That’s the question you’ve got to answer.’’

John F. Droney, a former Democratic state chairman, said Lieberman should run again. Droney points to the senator’s public stand for repealing “don’t ask don’t tell,’’ saying his actions impressed everyday Democrats and showed that Lieberman cannot be easily defined by his liberal critics.

“The average Democrat certainly is pretty proud of Joe, if you want the truth,’’ Droney said. But he said those “in deep left field’’ would not be swayed to support him.

“He’ll never make it up to those people,’’ he added.

Droney argues that Lieberman has various options as he weighs whether to run for the Senate again, especially since more people, including the president, are moving to the political center.

“He could run as an independent. He could run as a Democrat. A lot of Republicans still like him. He is still a very formidable player,’’ Droney said.

Lieberman is a longtime advocate for repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military and considers it a civil rights issue. He said he has been heartened by the kind words he received from people, including some Democrats from Connecticut, about his stance for ending the policy.

“It always feels better to have people say good things about you than bad,’’ he said, chuckling.

Lieberman said he’s grateful if his efforts to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell’’ give voters an expanded picture of him as a senator.

“My critics were making me into something I’m not, and a full look at my record . . . overall, going back to the state Senate, will show that I, like everybody else, is broader and more complicated than a single vote,’’ he said.

Kevin Sullivan, a former Democratic lieutenant governor and Senate president, said people in Connecticut appreciate Lieberman’s leadership on repealing the ban, calling his actions ironic since McCain, Lieberman’s friend, opposed the repeal. But Sullivan said Lieberman still bears the burden of trying to explain to Democrats why he publicly criticized Obama during the 2008 campaign.

“That will be hard for him to ever overcome,’’ Sullivan said. “Whether it’s fatal or not, it’s certainly a major hemorrhage that has not stopped bleeding.’’