Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has earned the appreciation of a Republican administration he has resolutely defended on the issue of the Iraq War. One prominent Jewish activist described Lieberman's "powerful sense of mission" in supporting the war.
But that steadfastness also has triggered a political backlash for Lieberman. He got a dose of it in Los Angeles last month and could have a fight on his hands this year to win a third term, a race that was initially expected to be a cakewalk.
At a fundraiser last month in Bel Air that included some top Jewish givers, Lieberman faced a decidedly mixed reception. Some participants applauded his staunch defense of the war as public opposition continues to grow -- but many others expressed concern.
At the Bel Air meeting, "some were overwhelmingly supportive of his stance, and some deeply unconvinced and skeptical," said one participant. "Most interestingly, he was so consumed by his sense of mission that he could not distinguish between the two."
Lieberman's defense of the war stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish majority. A recent American Jewish Committee poll indicated that 70 percent of Jews now oppose the administration's Iraq policies, although that number was considerably lower in Lieberman's Orthodox community.
Lieberman's defend-the-war mission has also sent up some storm clouds at home.
Former Sen. Lowell Weicker (R-Conn.), the man Lieberman unseated in 1988, has told Connecticut newspapers he may run against Lieberman on an anti-war platform if no other strong candidates emerge. Weicker -- who later served as Connecticut governor -- said he could run as an independent.
Lieberman could also face a Democratic Party challenger running on an anti-war platform.
Some Democrats have been further angered by persistent rumors that Lieberman may be tapped to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato said, "It's hard to believe Lieberman has to worry about holding his seat," but added that Weicker could be "a perfect protest vehicle" if anti-war sentiment continues to rise.
"And a truly contentious (Democratic) primary could open the way for a GOP challenge in the fall, especially since GOP Gov. Jodi Rell will sweep to victory," he said.
Sabato said while he would "put solid money on Lieberman's reelection, whatever the obstacles," Lieberman's national ambitions are a thing of the past.
"He crashed and burned in 2004, and now he's on the 'wrong' side of Iraq in the Democratic Party," he said. "It's over for him. Ironic, isn't it? He was almost elected vice president in 2000, which would have made him the logical presidential nominee for the Dems in 2008. But close only counts in horseshoes."
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