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Published: Friday, 7/28/2006

No profile in courage

THE state of Connecticut could use a "sore loser statute," a law that prohibits a political candidate defeated in a partisan primary from coming back to the ballot in the general election as an independent.

If such a law existed in the Constitution State, Sen. Joe Lieberman, who may very well be ditched by his fellow Democrats in the Aug. 8 primary, would have to show some spine and wouldn't be hedging his bets.

Mr. Lieberman is reported ready to file petitions as an independent if he loses the party nomination for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate to challenger Ned Lamont. Mr. Lamont's candidacy is based almost solely as a protest against Mr. Lieberman's unflagging support for President Bush's war in Iraq. The polls predict a close election.

Sore loser statutes, on the books in Ohio and other states, are a product of the two-party system, a way to protect candidates from opportunistic outcasts and gadflies. Those who advocate less partisanship in public affairs dislike such laws, but they do serve to lend a certain order and predictability to the political process.

However one comes down on that issue, or on the war, there seems to be general agreement in Connecticut that Mr. Lieberman appears less than heroic for covering his backside with the possibility of an independent candidacy.

Mr. Lamont has exploited that view with a TV ad showing Mr. Bush embracing the incumbent after a State of the Union address and even appearing to give Mr. Lieberman a smooch on the cheek. Now the senator is struggling to prevent it from being the kiss of death.

The antidote was a big hug - an arm across the shoulders, actually - from former President Bill Clinton, who went up to Connecticut the other day to urge party unity and point out that no Democrat, much less Mr. Lieberman, is responsible for how the war has turned out.

"So I say, we can fight later in the future about what do we do next, and honorable people can disagree," Mr. Clinton, ever the family peacemaker, asserted.

Maybe so, but it is proving difficult for Mr. Lieberman to shake the perception that he would do anything to remain in office, not to mention his seeming lack of confidence in his own partisan bona fides.

Thomas Foley, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, tried something similar when he sued to negate a term-limits law for members of Congress. He won in court but lost his bid for re-election in 1994.

Whether a similar fate befalls Mr. Lieberman is, of course, for the people of Connecticut to decide. It's probably safe to say, however, that he won't rate a chapter in the next edition of Profiles in Courage.



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