Will the Center Hold?

Wall Street Opinion Journal John Fund July 31, 2006

A moderate senator and a far-left congresswoman face tough Democratic primary challenges.

Two primaries next week will tell a lot about the strength of the hard-left wing of the Democratic party. In Connecticut, moderate Sen. Joe Lieberman faces a challenger whose single issue is opposition to the Iraq war. In Georgia, ultraliberal Rep. Cynthia McKinney faces a runoff against a moderate opponent who is wooing liberals with the slogan: “It’s time to restore respect to progressivism.” Despite all the hype about the power of the liberal blogosphere, the odds are better than even that voters will reject the more liberal candidate in both races and send the message that the sensible center still has a home among Democrats.

Conventional wisdom has it that Senator Joe Lieberman will lose his Aug. 8 primary. A mid-July Quinnipiac poll showed businessman Ned Lamont leading the three-term incumbent by 51% to 47% among likely primary voters. Democratic consultant Bob Shrum thinks the race is over and that Mr. Lamont can even defeat Mr. Lieberman should the senator run an independent. He says a Lamont primary victory will ensure that “we’ll see by the end of 2007 virtually every Democratic [presidential] candidate, including Hillary Clinton, favoring a date certain for withdrawal” from Iraq.

Not so fast. First, Mr. Lamont’s lead is within the Quinnipiac poll’s four-point margin of error. Secondly, it’s notoriously difficult to identify likely voters for a low-turnout primary in the dog days of August. Third, there are signs that Mr. Lamont may have “peaked too soon” in his challenge to the incumbent. He is now facing increased scrutiny on the thinness of his political résumé, his unfamiliarity with many issues, and his refusal to release his tax returns. At the same time, Mr. Lieberman’s campaign is showing signs of renewed vigor.

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