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Lieberman could avenge primary loss in Conn.

US Senator Joseph Lieberman with his wife Hadassah in New Haven, Conn., today.
US Senator Joseph Lieberman with his wife Hadassah in New Haven, Conn., today. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

OXFORD, Conn. --Connecticut residents headed to the polls today to decide the fate of three bitterly contested US House races and a US Senate contest, as national political observers keep a close eye on a state they say could be crucial to handing control of Congress to the Democrats.

Although recent polls show Senator Joseph Lieberman on the verge of avenging his August primary loss to newcomer Ned Lamont, antiwar sentiment in the Nutmeg State may help sweep three incumbent Republican congressmen out of office.

"I've got butterflies in my stomach, but we have a feeling this will be a good day for Democrats," said Democratic challenger Chris Murphy after casting his ballot in his hometown of Cheshire. The 33-year-old state senator is polling slightly ahead of US Representative Nancy Johnson, 71, who has held her Fifth District seat for nearly a quarter century.

"This is a unique year, where people have the courage to vote for change," Murphy said, standing beside his smiling fiancée, Cathy Holahan, outside a local elementary school.

Frustration with the Bush administration has bolstered anti-incumbent sentiment in the state. Jean Garber, 40, a registered nurse and Cheshire resident, chatted with Murphy while waiting to vote in the school's gymnasium.

"People are tired of negativity coming out of the White House," Garber said. She carried a Murphy placard and said she arrived at 6 a.m. to support her candidate. "They're tired of gas prices and tired of the war. Our expendable income is down hundreds of dollars a month."

Tom Ruocco stood a few feet away, clutching a blue Nancy Johnson placard amid the sea of red-clad Murphy supporters. "I think it's dangerous to pull out of Iraq right now. It would create a vacuum," said Ruocco, 46, a Republican Cheshire town councilman. Murphy has attacked Johnson for supporting administration policy on the war.

South of Cheshire, in the state's Fourth District, 10-term incumbent Christopher Shays, a Republican known for his centrist viewpoints, is facing a strong challenge from Diane Farrell, a former Westport first selectwoman who has run on an antiwar platform.

"The parking lot's been full since early this morning," said Oxford resident Jane Maher, surveying the scene at Quaker Farms School, the lone voting location in this southwestern Connecticut town of 10,000. Residents here said they had received dozens of calls from the Shays and Farrell camps alike.

Mary-Ann Drayton-Rogers, a retired postal worker who has lived in Oxford for four decades, said she voted for Farrell because of her opposition to the Iraq war. "We shouldn't have been there in the first place."

But a number of voters said they were supporting Shays, who they praised as a principled leader who refused to toe his party's line.

The Senate race, which captured national attention this summer after Lamont upset Lieberman, is less competitive; a poll released Monday suggested that Lieberman had a 12-point lead over Lamont, whose antiwar support appears to have fizzled.

Drayton-Rogers said that despite her antiwar views, Lamont had not captured her Senate vote. "I find Lieberman very credible, very principled, and he stuck with what he believed."

A few miles down Route 67, Oxford's main thoroughfare, the lunchtime crowd at Fritz's Snack Bar was beginning to file in. Amy Lappos, a Seymour resident, sat at the counter with a Diet Coke and a Reuben sandwich, watching her preschool-aged daughter and son pick over a half-eaten turkey club.

"It's scary how we've been losing so many personal freedoms, the longer Bush has been in office," said Lappos, who was on her way to cast a vote for Lamont. "I don't want it to be a dictatorship here."

Lamont's diehard supporters were still holding out hope today. In Branford, blogger Kelly Monaghan – a.k.a. Branford Boy – dismissed the poll numbers.

"There's a long list of reasons for Democrats in this state to have problems with Joe, for other reasons than the war," Monaghan said by telephone, adding that the Quinnipiac poll suffered from "constant pro-Joe spin."

Another pro-Lamont blogger, Bob Adams, also was optimistic. "I think we're gonna win!" said Adams, better known to local political watchers by his on-line moniker, "Connecticut Bob." "I think the polls were way overblown.''

Lieberman cast his vote in New Haven this morning and was planning a number of visits to voting locations today throughout the state. Lamont voted in Greenwich this morning.

Also in the state, US Representative Rob Simmons is running neck-and-neck with Democratic challenger Joe Courtney in the Second District, another race that observers are watching closely as the Democrats try to capture 15 seats to win back the House.

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