U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2000 who became an independent to survive a bruising 2006 Senate re- election, said he won’t seek another term.
“I have decided that it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter,” Lieberman said at a news conference in Stamford, Connecticut. He said he will serve the final two years of his fourth term before retiring.
Acknowledging he would have faced another tough campaign, Lieberman insisted he isn’t running from a fight and instead is seeking “another season and another purpose” after 24 years in the Senate.
His decision not to run in 2012 will mark an end to a political career in which he was a leader of Democratic centrists in the Senate before Connecticut Democrats turned against him over his support for the Iraq war. After losing the party’s Senate primary in 2006, he became an independent and won the general election. He remains a swing vote in the Senate who caucuses with Democrats.
Lieberman’s decision offers good news for Democrats, said Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. The party will likely hold onto the seat in two years because the state remains solidly Democratic even as Republicans made gains elsewhere in last November’s elections, she said.
“This helps Democrats hold the seat,” Duffy said. “It’s a more reliable outcome for them now.”
Democrats control the Senate 53-47; Republicans will be aiming to gain the majority in the 2012 elections. Democrats will be defending 23 of the 33 seats at stake so far next year.
Connecticut’s Democratic former secretary of state, Susan Bysiewicz, announced yesterday that she would run for Lieberman’s seat, which he first won in 1988. Two Democratic U.S. representatives from Connecticut, Chris Murphy and Joe Courtney, yesterday said they also were interested in running.
The two talked at length yesterday on the House floor. Courtney said in a statement that he was “seriously considering” seeking the seat, and Murphy said in an interview they would continue to talk with each other about running.
“Connecticut is not a state you can take for granted,” Murphy said. “If we have the right candidate on the Democratic line, we can absolutely hold the seat.”
Duffy said Republicans considering a bid include Linda McMahon, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat vacated last year by retiring Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, and Tom Foley, Connecticut Republicans’ 2010 gubernatorial nominee.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, announced yesterday that he will retire rather than seek re-election in 2012, and Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison made a similar announcement last week.
Lieberman ran as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee on the ticket headed by Al Gore in 2000. He was the first Jewish candidate on a major national political party’s presidential ticket.
In 2006, Lieberman was in effect forced out of the party over his support for the Iraq war when Ned Lamont, an anti-war Democrat, beat him in the Democratic Senate primary. He pivoted and ran as an independent, defeating Lamont by 10 percentage points as he won re-election with 49.7 percent of the overall vote.
Lieberman, 68, continued to draw the ire of many Democrats, particularly after he endorsed Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona for president in 2008 and spoke at that year’s Republican National Convention. Some Senate Democrats said he should lose his chairmanship of the Homeland Security panel as a result, although President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada supported Lieberman’s continued leadership of the committee.
Last year Lieberman helped Democrats push through the Senate the health-care legislation that was Obama’s top domestic priority. He had threatened to withhold his support if Democrats sought to create a new government program, similar to Medicare, to provide coverage to the uninsured. Democratic leaders dropped the idea to win support from him and other holdouts.
In last month’s lame-duck session of Congress, Lieberman voted with Republicans to extend tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush for all income groups, not just the middle- and lower-income groups favored by most Democrats.
He also helped reach a deal with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine that accomplished a Democratic goal, a repeal of the ban on military service by openly gay individuals.
In his remarks today, he said he “did not always fit comfortably into conventional political boxes,” and that he never thought his role was to be loyal to a political party.
“I have always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them,” he said.
He said he is proud of his support for the foreign and defense policies of presidents in both parties, and also for his work to expand civil rights and cut taxes.
He said one of his main accomplishments was to serve as the chairman or top minority-party member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee since it was founded after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
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