Why Is Lieberman Stepping Down?

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Independent Senator Joe Lieberman is set to announce that he will not seek reelection in 2012. Lieberman has long played a unique role in the Senate. As a Democrat, he was the first to criticize President Bill Clinton for the Lewinsky affair but went on to become Al Gore's 2000 presidential running mate. In 2006, after frequently joining with the Bush administration's policies, Liberman's growing unpopularity in his party led him to lose Connecticut's Democratic primary. He won the general election as an Independent and was considered a front-runner to become John McCain's 2008 running mate. Since Obama took office, Lieberman has often infuriated Democrats with his obstruction of, among other things, health care reform, although Lieberman went on to champion the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." So, after all that, why is he leaving now and what does it mean?

  • He Would Have Lost in 2012   "By all accounts, Lieberman's re-election prospects were very poor," writes The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen. "He won in 2006, after losing the Democratic primary, because it was effectively a two-way contest between Lieberman and Ned Lamont. Lieberman had enough GOP and independent support, along with some lingering Democratic backing, to win with relative ease. That wasn't going to happen in 2012--both major parties intend to run top-tier candidates--and Lieberman's standing has weakened considerably in recent years, with moves that managed to annoy practically everyone."
  • Dems Were Hoping to Unseat Him  "Rivals," The New York Times' David Halbfinger and Raymond Hernandez write, "were already signaling they believed Mr. Lieberman was vulnerable; even before the news emerged on Tuesday, the Democrat Susan Bysiewicz, a former secretary of state in Hartford, had said she would run for the seat. Other possible contenders include Representatives Christopher S. Murphy, a popular three-term Democrat whose district includes Danbury and Waterbury, and Joseph Courtney, whose district includes New London."
  • Hasn't This Been Inevitable Since 2008?  The New Republic's Jonathan Chait says of Lieberman's support for McCain over Obama, "It's highly unusual for a competent politician to take such a suicidal step. It's possibly Lieberman knew what he was doing when he sealed his own fate in 2008, but I think he really believed he could survive."
  • Strong GOP Candidates for CT  National Review's Brian Bolduc writes, "Former congressman Rob Simmons hasn't ruled out a senatorial bid in 2012--and neither has former gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley. The former ambassador to Ireland, who just barely lost the Connecticut governorship to Dannel Malloy in November, tells NRO he hasn’t 'made any decision one way or the other' regarding the rumored soon-to-be open seat."
  • Could He Feature in 2012 GOP Administration?  The Weekly Standard's William Kristol deploys an unclear degree of sarcasm here. "I haven’t spoken with Lieberman in a while, and I have no inside information. But isn’t the answer pretty obvious? He doesn’t want to run for re-election only to have to step down even before his new term began, in order to accept the position of Secretary of Defense in the new Ryan-Rubio administration. This way he can lead 'Independents for R2,' then move right after election day into preparations for the Cabinet post."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.