Did Joe Lieberman fly "too close to the sun"?

News from the Connecticut primary.

Published July 26, 2006 5:26PM (EDT)

From the Joe Lieberman watch comes bizarre speculation and a blast from the past that we'd forgotten.

The speculation first. In Time this week, Joe Klein says "there are those who believe" that Lieberman has aligned himself so closely to George W. Bush out of a hope that he could win both the Democratic and the Republican nominations for the Senate this year. "He flew too close to the sun," one anonymous Connecticut Democrat tells Klein. Klein himself seems skeptical. Josh Marshall? A little more so. Would Lieberman really have "gamed his criticism of President Bush," Marshall asks, either to gain some "meager advantage" over whatever suicider the Republicans put up against him or to pull off the" bipartisanship hat trick of dual nomination"?

And now, the memory. In this week's New Yorker, in a "Talk of the Town" piece that doesn't appear to be available online, Hendrik Hertzberg reminds us of an earlier "it's all about Joe" moment. When Al Gore picked Lieberman as his running mate in 2000, Lieberman chose to stay on the ballot for his seat in the Senate even though a Republican governor would have been entitled to name his replacement if Gore had become president. The result: Lieberman "single-handedly guaranteed" that Republicans would control the Senate after the election, Hertzberg says.

How so? If the Supreme Court had allowed Gore to take the White House, a Republican replacement would have taken Lieberman's seat in the Senate, leaving the GOP with a 51-49 edge. And if -- as it happened -- Bush took the White House instead, the Senate would be in a 50-50 tie with Dick Cheney breaking any deadlock on behalf of the Republicans. The only scenario that would have put Democrats in control was the one Lieberman couldn't bring himself to accept: Stay out of the race and let the state's popular Democratic attorney general run instead.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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