Has the De-Liebermanization of the Democratic Party Begun?

Connecticut Democrats will go to the polls on Tuesday and the choice will be a defining moment for both the Democratic Party and the nation. While I will stop short of a precise prediction, let me suggest that polling evidence shows that Senator Joseph Lieberman will lose the Senate primary to businessman Ned Lamont by a substantial margin. Enough of a margin, in fact, to convince his Senate colleagues and friends that he should forego a promised independent run and bow out gracefully. We already see good friends like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg suggesting that Lieberman will have to drop out and the pressure will build.

At the same time, we have seen Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton begin the process of pulling away from her aggressive pro-war stance in last week's compelling confrontation with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Referring to the Bush administration's policy in Iraq as a "failure" was a big change for Hillary who has been booed in recent months by fellow Democrats for her support for the President.

I have stated on The Huffington Post several times that the Democrats will have a tough time convincing that they are ready to take back control of Congress without offering any clarity on the Iraq War. Lieberman has been patently clear on Iraq but way out of the mainstream of his party's own voters. Clinton as well runs the risk of having her landslide victory in New York tainted by a below-expectations showing because New York liberal Democrats want her to be against the war.

Let's just look at the numbers from my most recent national poll (July 21). Overall, only 36% of likely voters told us that they agree that the war in Iraq has been "worth the loss of American lives", while 57% disagree. But the partisan splits are more revealing: only 16% of the Democrats polled said the war has been worth while 82% disagree and only 26% of Independents agree the war has been worth it while 72% disagree. On the Republican side, 64% said the war has been worth it, while 23% disagree. The war has been the principal cause of the nation's polarization in the past three years. The polling evidence shows the degree to which Iraq has become a Republican war. And these latest numbers are also noteworthy in that they show that about one in four Republicans have now pretty much given up on the war.

All of which is to suggest that Democratic candidates will now probably be emboldened to take a stronger stance against the war. If principle doesn't win the day, at least the polling numbers are pretty clear what their base wants. Indeed, the polling numbers were pretty clear what Democrats and Independents wanted in 2004 - and the fact that they didn't receive the opposition to the war they were looking for from their standard-bearers is the main reason that they lost both the Presidency and did not pick up seats in either house of Congress.

Meanwhile, look for Ned Lamont, who is running a strong antiwar campaign, to be the new face of the Democrats in 2006 and perhaps beyond. And look for Democratic voters to push harder for even more clarity on where Democrats stand. Lieberman will be gone and Clinton will be distancing herself from her previous stand. But calling an obvious failure a failure will not be enough. The next step in offering voters some clarity on Iraq will be to develop an exit strategy.

That is what leadership is all about and Democrats, fresh from sending the pro-war Lieberman a clear message, will be looking very closely.