Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, riding a wave of press attention after Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean brought sympathy and the capture of Saddam Hussein bolstered his pro-war stance, has been positioning himself as the “anti-Dean,” the “clear choice” for those dissatisfied with the front-runner.
But polls show that Lieberman, far from gaining any real momentum from those events, is failing to pick up steam where it counts — in the early primary states.
“There’s been no movement his way — a little favorable press for a short moment, but that was about it,” said Lee Miringoff, a pollster at New York’s Marist College.
Still, Lieberman, who has moved to New Hampshire for the period leading up to the primary, is slogging on — and hammering Dean for his remarks saying the America is no safer after Saddam’s capture and tendering to Osama bin Laden the presumption of innocence.
“I think there’s a lot of second-looking going on with Howard Dean,” Lieberman said in a conference call with reporters Monday. “People who were drawn to him because of their anger at Bush or their position against the war are asking one big question, ‘Is this guy ready to be president?’”
But recent polls in the February 3 primary states that Lieberman long led by virtue of his name recognition — and which he has identified as crucial to his strategy of emerging after the first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire — show that the candidate has lost ground to other contenders, with his support dropping to the single digits. Lieberman’s campaign said that situation owed to other candidates’ advertising in those states and would change in its favor once the senator’s own ads aired. But analysts argue that Lieberman’s absence from the January 19 caucuses in Iowa will hinder his emergence later, since he largely will be absent from press coverage until the New Hampshire primary on January 27.
Things look bad — at least for now.
In Oklahoma, where Lieberman early on locked up the endorsement of key officials and whose conservative-leaning voters were thought to be prime Lieberman supporters, an American Research Group poll taken December 20 through 23 showed Dean with 24%, retired general Wesley Clark with 21% and Lieberman with 9%.
In Arizona, a Northern Arizona State University poll conducted from November 14 to December 9 showed Lieberman with 9%, trailing Dean with 22% and retired general Wesley Clark with 12%.
In South Carolina, another bastion of conservative Democrats but with many African-American voters, Dean also leads but by a smaller margin. According to an American Research Group poll, Dean gets 16% of the vote there, followed by Clark and the Rev. Sharpton with 12% each and North Carolina Senator John Edwards with 11%. Lieberman and Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt each poll at 7% there.
Early on, “name recognition gave him an upper-tier status in the polls, but typically, as the candidates hit the ground in the states, others have overtaken him and his name recognition advantage has evaporated,” Miringoff said. “It’s gone state by state.”
Miringoff said Lieberman “doesn’t seem well-positioned” to portray himself as the anti-Dean compared to other candidates, either. “Gephardt has Iowa, Clark has his military credentials, and Edwards has a Southern base and populist appeal. Lieberman was Gore’s running mate. I’m not sure where that leaves him.”
Lieberman is hoping for a third-place showing in New Hampshire, but Dick Bennett, president of the New Hampshire-based American Research Group, told the Forward that the candidate has much ground to make up there.
“Being the vice-presidential nominee without participating in the primary process was a tremendous disadvantage to Lieberman,” Bennett said, because the senator “didn’t understand what he had to do” and “hasn’t done the hard work” in New Hampshire, where small-scale, hand-to-hand politics hold sway. Now time has almost run out. He also said Lieberman’s ads are “terrible.”
Lieberman’s deputy campaign manager, Brian Hardwick, told the Forward that his polling shows that support for Dean and Clark in the February 3 states is “soft,” and said Lieberman’s ads would be going up soon in those areas. He said that in Oklahoma, Lieberman’s position on the war is much more popular than Clark’s. Stating Lieberman’s positive message gives him a 10-point edge over the general. Kerry, Hardwick said, would collapse after he is defeated by Dean in New Hampshire because “he doesn’t have a strong organization” in the February 3 states.
Still, according to Bennett, the pollster, Dean’s organizations on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire are such that he is poised “to roll right through.” But Bennett held out a glimmer of hope for the other candidates: Dean’s complaints this week to the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe, about the nastiness of the other candidates, betray a “softening” of his poll numbers and show that the criticisms are hurting him in New Hampshire, Bennett said.
Lieberman seized on that small plank.
“To me it would be surprising if there wasn’t a softening in his poll numbers,” Lieberman said of Dean Monday, in response to the Forward’s question. “He’s gone through a remarkable series of retractions.”