The U.S. Senate Races: Will the GOP Have a Lieberman Option?

Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight Blog in the New York Times is considered by many to be America’s leading election forecaster.  He currently gives the Republicans a better than 50% chance of winning eight U.S. Senate seats currently held by Democrats, specifically in the following states:  Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada.


In the case of a ninth U.S. Senate seat currently held by the Democrats (West Virginia), Silver gives the GOP a fifty percent chance of victory.  He does not give the Democrats a better than 11 percent chance of winning a single Senate seat currently held by a Republican.


If the Republicans win all nine of the races mentioned above, each party will have 50 U.S. Senate seats.  Vice President Joe Biden would be the tie breaker, and the Democrats would thus retain control of the United States Senate.  That is, unless Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) switches parties and joins the Republicans, giving the GOP a 51-49 edge.


I have no doubt that if the November elections result in a 50-50 Senate, the Republicans will make every effort to persuade Senator Lieberman to join the GOP.  Is there a realistic possibility of his making such a switch?  I truly think so.


On domestic issues, Lieberman endorses, for the most part, the initiatives of the Obama administration and the Senate Democrats.  On foreign policy and defense issues, however, Lieberman is solidly in support of Republican positions, particularly on Israel and the Middle East. 


Over the past four years, Lieberman has in many ways found more common cause with Republicans than Democrats.  In 2006, Lieberman, seeking reelection to a fourth term as U.S. Senator, was defeated by ultra-liberal Ned Lamont in the Connecticut Democratic primary.  The Senator won reelection as an independent, however, with far more support from nationally prominent Republicans, such as the late Jack Kemp, Newt Gingrich, and Rudy Giuliani, than Democrats.   In 2008, Lieberman supported Republican John McCain for President.


After both the 2006 and 2008 elections, Lieberman considered switching to the GOP, but on both occasions decided to remain with the Democrats.  This time, Lieberman’s decision will be based upon whether he intends to run for reelection in 2012.


A poll taken by Public Policy Polling (PPP) in Connecticut in January, 2010 showed Lieberman’s popularity to be at an all time low in the Nutmeg State.  Lieberman’s favorability ratings were negative throughout the political spectrum, 39%-48 % among Republicans, 32%-61% among Independents, and a shocking 14%-81% among Democrats.


This poll was taken shortly after Lieberman’s highly publicized indecision on ObamaCare.  While he finally voted for the legislation, his equivocations alienated virtually every sector of the Connecticut body politic.  It certainly is possible that a new poll would produce substantially different numbers.


Still, it is clear that Lieberman has a far better chance to be reelected as a Republican.  It is a virtual certainty that he would lose the 2012 Connecticut U.S.  Senate Democratic primary.  By contrast, it is highly likely that if Lieberman switches parties, both leading national and Connecticut Republicans will ensure that he will have no serious 2012 Connecticut Republican primary opposition.


So if Joe Lieberman decides to run for reelection in 2012, there is a better than even chance that he will join the GOP.  This switch may well give the Republicans control of the United States Senate.


Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. Under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, he served as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

  The U.S. Senate Races:  Will the GOP Have a Lieberman Option?