With an eye toward the 2008 presidential primaries, Democratic Party insiders are predicting that Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin could get a major boost from anti-war challenger Ned Lamont’s victory in Connecticut last week over Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Feingold is the only likely Democratic presidential candidate to vote against the Senate’s 2002 resolution approving the use of force in Iraq, and the first Senate Democrat to speak favorably about Lamont’s primary challenge to three-term Lieberman. Last June he told Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Lamont’s “positions are much closer to mine on the critical issues.” Feingold refused to endorse Lieberman for re-election.
Since Lieberman’s defeat in the primary, Feingold has continued to position himself as one of the senator’s most vocal critics, telling George Stephanopoulos on the August 13 edition of ABC’s “This Week” that Lieberman “doesn’t get it” on Iraq and that it would be “helpful” to the party if he dropped out of the Connecticut general election rather than continuing his run as an independent.
A spokesperson for Feingold’s political action committee, the Progressive Patriots Fund, told the Forward that while the senator has no current plans to campaign with Lamont, he is “willing to help out in numerous ways.” The PAC already has given the $5,000 legal limit to the Lamont campaign.
Feingold, a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, is generally considered the dark horse in a Democratic field that is likely to include more centrist candidates, such as Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, former North Carolina senator and vice presidential nominee John Edwards, and former Virginia governor Mark Warner. Now, with many of those contenders rushing both to endorse Lamont and to burnish their anti-war credentials, Feingold may be poised to capture the grass-roots momentum generated by the Connecticut race.
Lamont’s win is “all immediate good news for Feingold,” said one Democratic consultant who did not want to be named because of ties to other figures in the party. The consultant described Feingold as “the Howard Dean, the Paul Wellstone and the Jesse Jackson of the 2008 presidential campaign,” dryly adding that anointment by the Internet-based activists “wasn’t enough for Dean to win.”
Across the political aisle, the boost-to-Feingold assessment was offered by National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez, who wrote in an August 14 column that Feingold has “the advantage of being able to say to anyone disillusioned about Iraq that he was (in his mind) right all along — unlike Johnny-come-latelies” in the 2008 field.
Feingold, whose sister is the rabbi of a Reform synagogue in Kenosha, Wis., was among the 23 U.S. senators to vote against the use of force in Iraq in 2002. Along with another Senate colleague and possible presidential contender, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Feingold co-sponsored a resolution calling for a timeline for withdrawing from Iraq. In March, he introduced an unsuccessful resolution to censure President Bush over his administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
In recent days, since his win in the primary, Lamont has received the endorsement of Democratic Party leaders and expected 2008 contenders, including one of the more conservative hopefuls, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. Lamont also now has the support of Clinton and Kerry, both of whom voted for the 2002 resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq, but have vocally challenged the administration’s handling of the war. Lamont was scheduled to campaign in New Haven with Edwards, who recently apologized for voting in favor of the Iraq resolution of 2002.
According to Tom Hughes, executive director of Democracy for America — the group founded by Howard Dean after his loss in the 2004 presidential primaries — it is still “very, very early” in the candidate vetting process. And while Lamont’s success may buoy Feingold, it also “may embolden [another] candidate or two to step forward.” “This primary has proved that progressives do have the power to win primary campaigns,” and what that “emboldens is the progressive community,” Hughes told the Forward. “People are really fired up.”