Could it happen here?
We’ll know next month. In Connecticut this week, hawkish Democratic senator Joe Lieberman lost a hotly contested primary battle to Ned Lamont, his aggressively anti-war challenger. (Lieberman says he will now try to keep his seat by running as an independent.) On September 19, meanwhile, hawkish Democratic congressman Steve Lynch — who represents Massachusetts’s Ninth District — faces a primary challenge from Phil Dunkelbarger, whose chief beef with the congressman is his support for the war in Iraq (see “Who’s the Real Dem?”, News and Features, July 6).
On Tuesday afternoon, several hours before the Lieberman-Lamont results were in, Lynch’s message was simple: I’m not Joe. In a phone interview with the Phoenix, he cited a long stream of numbers to back up this contention: his anti-Bush voting record (Lynch says he votes against the president 85 percent of the time, compared with just over 50 percent for Lieberman); his rating from the League of Conservation Voters (94 percent to about 70 for Lieberman); his rating from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (100 percent to to about 80 for Lieberman); and so on. “They’re sort of trying to paint Joe as being an ally of the president, and you can probably glean some support for that position from his voting record,” Lynch said. “If you do the same with mine — like Bill Clinton used to say, that dog won’t hunt.”
“I understand what my opponent is trying to do,” Lynch added. “It’s politics. But it doesn’t mean that people have to put their common sense aside to buy that bullshit. Go to vote-smart.org and find out what the truth is, and then make your decision.”
The day after Lieberman’s loss, Dunkelbarger offered a markedly different take. “I think if you take the results from yesterday, and add it to yesterday’s Washington Post-ABC poll” — which identified strong anti-war sentiment among Democrats, and anti-incumbent feeling among voters generally — “you see what we’ve been finding when we go into the district. People aren’t satisfied with the representation they have, and they want a change. I think what this does for us is to wake up the mainstream media and the pundits who’ve felt that this incumbent was firmly entrenched and invulnerable. And that is not at all true.”
Time will tell, but skepticism is definitely warranted. Yes, Lieberman’s loss is an indicator of the prevailing Democratic mood. But by the time Connecticut voters went to the polls, Lamont’s challenge had become a national political phenomenon. (Lamont’s personal wealth helped; so did extremely savvy marketing by his supporters.) That’s quite a contrast with Dunkelbarger, who’s operating on a shoestring budget and whose candidacy remains relatively obscure. If Dunkelbarger is going to pull a Lamont, he’ll need to act fast.