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A Brief Visit Home To Run for Senate

By Edward Walsh, Washington Post,
Tuesday 26 September 2000; A01

STAMFORD, Conn., Sept. 25 -- So who was that politician who came bounding through Connecticut today, handing out "Joe's Heroes" awards, announcing a federal grant to put police officers in the local schools, raising money for his party and generally basking in the glow of a warm welcome home?

Was it Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, a historic figure as the first Jewish nominee for vice president of either major party?

Or was it just the familiar Joe Lieberman of New Haven, 30-year veteran of Connecticut politics who is also seeking a third term in the Senate?

Actually, it was both, but officially this was the day that Just Joe came home to campaign for reelection.

That is how he was introduced on the banks of the Connecticut River in Middletown by Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.). "Let's hear a welcoming hand for our Senator Joe," Gejdenson told about 100 Lieberman supporters.

He said "nothing has electrified this state" like Vice President Gore's selection of Lieberman to be his running mate. But nothing else recently has quite so complicated local politics, where Lieberman's election as vice president would hand the state's Republican governor the right to name his Senate replacement and possibly determine control of that body for at least the next two years.

It is, Lieberman said today, an "unusual situation" that has divided the state's electorate and set off maneuvering among Connecticut politicians.

Under Connecticut law, if the Gore-Lieberman ticket wins in November and Lieberman is also reelected to the Senate, he would have to resign his Senate seat before taking office as vice president. Lieberman's replacement would be named by Gov. John G. Rowland and would serve until the next general election in November 2002. Republicans currently control the Senate, 54-46, and in a close election one seat could tip the balance of power in the next Congress.

With Lieberman's backing, Democratic leaders in the state legislature have floated the idea of passing legislation to allow a special Senate election next year. But Rowland has vowed to veto any such measure and the Democrats, who enjoy a healthy majority in the House but only a two-vote margin in the state Senate, are unlikely to be able to override a veto.

As a result, Lieberman's dual candidacy is the topic of the day in Connecticut politics. Lieberman is an immensely popular figure here. In a Quinnipiac College poll published last week, he enjoyed an 80 percent job approval rating and a more than 3 to 1 lead over his GOP opponent in the Senate race, Waterbury Mayor Philip Giordano.

But the same poll showed Connecticut voters are split down the middle over the propriety of Lieberman running for two offices at the same time, with 45 percent expressing approval and 46 percent saying they disapproved.

Even some of Lieberman's strongest supporters are divided over the question. Waiting for his arrival in Middletown, Sandra Faraci, secretary of the Town Committee and registrar of voters, said "he has the right to do that. It's his choice, although he won't need that because he will be the vice president."

But Henry Novicki, 76, a retired supervisor for Pratt & Whitney, said, "I feel it should be one or the other. He's not going to campaign for the Senate. He's a shoo-in. I'm here because he's a candidate for vice president."

But officially at least, Lieberman was in Connecticut today to campaign for reelection to the Senate and raise about $3 million for the Democratic National Committee at three events. In Middletown and later Shelton, he gave "Joe's Heroes" awards to a local environmental leader and a major donor to a Boys and Girls club facility.

When reporters got a chance to question Lieberman in Middletown, all but two of the questions had to do with his double role in this campaign.

He said Rowland's veto threat had not affected his opinion that, should he and Gore win in November, his Senate replacement should be chosen in a special election early next year. As for the poll showing voters divided over whether he should run for both offices, Lieberman said, "I and my extended family in Connecticut have agreed to disagree."

Before Gore tapped him as his running mate, Lieberman had tentatively agreed to debate Giordano at least once, on Oct. 19 in New London. But today he appeared to be backing away from that commitment. He said he is "keeping a very busy schedule" and had promised Gore that he would "work my heart out" for the national ticket.

Lieberman said he is focusing on his Oct. 5 debate with his GOP vice presidential counterpart, former defense secretary Richard B. Cheney, and will "not make a decision about the other debate until that's over."

Running for the Senate against a vice presidential candidate can be an exasperating experience. "On the day I was campaigning in Stamford, Connecticut," Giordano said recently, "he was in Stanford, California."

Throughout the day, Lieberman assured voters that they were never far from his thoughts as he continued on what he called "this extraordinary trip" of running for vice president. There is no question that most of the state's Democrats approve of him doing that and running for the Senate.

Introducing Lieberman at a DNC fundraising luncheon in Hartford, Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) said there had been "something of a stir in the state" over the dual candidacy. But, Larson said, "what's in the best interest of the state of Connecticut is that Joe Lieberman be in the U.S. Congress or be the next vice president of the United States. It's that simple, it's that clear, it's that exact."

Then Lieberman spoke, assuring his audience that he had "inner confidence" about the outcome of the November election. Perhaps it was an oversight, but he neglected to mention that he is a candidate for reelection to the Senate in that election.

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