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Rove says he didn't offer Lieberman Bush's backing

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Karl Rove, the top White House political adviser, said yesterday that he did not offer the administration's backing to the reelection bid of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, in a telephone call Tuesday.

Lieberman was defeated by Ned Lamont in the Democratic primary, but he plans to run as an independent in the November congressional elections.

The three-term incumbent was ousted by Democrats who opposed his support of the Iraq war. The White House has launched a campaign to try to convince Americans that the Connecticut outcome was proof that the Democratic Party is in the grip of the party's left wing.

Rove told reporters traveling with President Bush on a political fund-raising trip to Wisconsin that he spoke to Lieberman on Tuesday afternoon, before the votes were counted in the primary, and that he wished him well.

``It was a personal call," Rove said. ``Look, [Senate Democratic leader] Harry Reid has been at my house for dinner, so I actually do have acquaintances and friendships on the other side of the aisle."

Top Republicans, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have taken the unusual step of publicly commenting on the results of the Democratic primary that Lieberman lost.

Rove said reports that he offered to help the senator were ``completely inaccurate" and Bush did not know until yesterday about his call to Lieberman.

Democrats see Lieberman's loss in the primary as a referendum on Bush and the Iraq war, while Republicans say it shows that Democrats are soft on national security issues.

The arrest in Britain of 24 people who allegedly plotted to use liquid explosives on airliners traveling from Britain to the United States offered Bush the opportunity to make his point again that the war on terrorism must continue.

White House officials contend that the war on terrorism will play an important role on the campaign trail and insist that the United States must not engage in a premature withdrawal from Iraq.

``The issue's going to be discussed in the fall. . . . Are you saying if the Democrats talk about the war, we shouldn't? . . . We'll talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats," a senior Bush administration official said.

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