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Connecticut Incumbents Face Close Elections for Supporting Iraq War

June 23, 2006 at 6:20 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Welcome to Connecticut, a state of wealthy shore towns and gritty cities where voters typically send members to Congress for decades at a time.

But this year, Connecticut voters are among the angriest in the nation, deeply dismayed about the war in Iraq, and deeply unhappy about two home-state lawmakers who still continue to strongly support that war: Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat, and Representative Chris Shays, a Republican.

Only six years ago, Joe Lieberman was his party’s vice-presidential standard-bearer. Two years ago, he ran for president himself. But now, thanks to his support for the Iraq War, he has some explaining to do at home, some of it in person…

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), Connecticut: It’s controversial, you know. But, you know, when it comes to national security, you got to do what you…

GWEN IFILL: Some of it on the air.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I already know that some of you feel passionately against my position on Iraq. I respect your views. And while we probably won’t change each other’s minds, I hope we can still have a dialogue.

GWEN IFILL: The dialogue has already been vigorous. This spring, demonstrators carried mock coffins to Lieberman’s Hartford offices, chanting “Joe must go.”

PROTESTORS: Joe must go! Joe must go!

Supporters leaving the bandwagon

GWEN IFILL: Now, deep into the summer, leading up to anAugust 8th Democratic primary, it's clear Lieberman Democrats, like Pat Carolan, have already jumpedship.

Why did you change your mind?

PAT CAROLAN, Connecticut Resident: The war in Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Really?

PAT CAROLAN: That's the whole issue. Yes, he's dead wrong onthat issue, so...

GWEN IFILL: No other issue, that's it?

PAT CAROLAN: That's it.

GWEN IFILL: He's just wrong?

PAT CAROLAN: He's wrong. He's wrong. The president's wrong;he's wrong.

GWEN IFILL: Al Simon, another Democrat, went so far as toorganize a Democratic committee vote in his hometown of Windsorcensuring Lieberman.

AL SIMON, Connecticut Resident: The war is a disaster, andthere is nobody that I know in my circle who thinks that it's the right thing to do. Most of us thoughtit was bad from the start, but it's turned into such an unmitigated disaster that someone who doesn't recognizefacts and refuses to change an opinion really seems to be out of touch with reality. That's what's changed.

GERRY VITOLO, Connecticut Resident: This is beautiful. Lookat this.

GWEN IFILL: And then there are old friends, Gerry Vitolo andLoretta Winter, stanch Democrats who have always voted for Lieberman but now disagree.

LORETTA WINTER, Connecticut Resident: I am disappointed inhis support of the war.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that you'll vote for his opponentthis time?

LORETTA WINTER: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Why? He's been your senator for 18 years.

LORETTA WINTER: I know, but, you know, it might be just timefor a change.

GERRY VITOLO: I like Lieberman, and I still like him, eventhough I know -- I know he voted for the war, he's in favor of the war, but a lot of people were after allthe horror of 9/11. And I just trust him, because there's so much corruption in government today, and I justsomehow feel that I don't think he could be corrupted.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I'm in a battle, so I love hearingthat. Thank you.

CONNECTICUT RESIDENT: I'm behind you...

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you so much.

I'll tell you the truth, I hear all sides about Iraq. Forinstance, a whole bunch of people here today said, "I agree with you on Iraq. And don't be pushedinto saying something other than what you believe is right for the safety of our country."

Sometimes I meet people who say, "You know, I don'tagree with you on Iraq, but I know you're taking that position sincerely, and I'm so grateful for everything elseyou've done for the state that I'm going to vote for you."

And there are some people who say, "I don't agree withyou on Iraq. And it's so important to me that, notwithstanding all the other things I agree with you on,I'm going to vote against you." Well, that's their right. I think they're making a mistake, but that's theirright.

The war on terrorism is real. There's an enemy out there,radical Islamist terrorism that has attacked us and will again, and Iraq is all part of that. So it'svery important to talk about it. People want to, and I'm happy to.

Problems on the other side, too

GWEN IFILL: Chris Shays is in an even tighter spot. ARepublican in a traditionally Democratic district, he's been elected to the House nine times byvoters who are now adamantly against the war.

CONNECTICUTRESIDENT: Over 2,000 troops have already died. Over 18,000 have been wounded.

GWEN IFILL: A June Quinnipiac Universitypoll showed 63 percent of the state's voters believe going to war in Iraqwas the wrong thing to do. Political scientist Doug Schwartz.

DOUG SCHWARTZ, Pollster: Connecticut is bluer than the rest of thenation. We are more Democratic, and we are more against the war than the rest of the country.

GWEN IFILL: But Shays says he is not backing down.

I read a story that said that your mother left you a noteand told you to stop talking about Iraq.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), Connecticut: It really bugged me, even myown mother.

GWEN IFILL: Well, why?

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Well, because I think my mom isafraid I'll lose the election. I mean, I just don't think that's the appropriate issue. I don't think it'sthe appropriate question.

I mean, I believe that we are fighting a noble cause. I'vebeen there 12 times. I was the first there; I have been there more than any other member. I have goneoutside the umbrella of the military four of the 12 times.

I've spoken to individual Iraqis. We made some hugemistakes, and we dug a deep hole, but making mistakes does not justify leaving prematurely.

GWEN IFILL: Shays' position just doesn't wash for DemocratJim O'Donnell, who always crossed party lines to support Shays.

Do you consider yourself a Democrat or a Republican?

JIM O'DONNELL, Connecticut Resident: I consider myself aDemocrat, yes.

GWEN IFILL: But you voted for Chris Shays?

JIM O'DONNELL: I did.

GWEN IFILL: Why?

JIM O'DONNELL: Because he appeared to be an independentthinker.

GWEN IFILL: He's a big supporter of the war. Can you votefor him?

JIM O'DONNELL: Not again.

The challengers take advantage

GWEN IFILL: If it were up to the challengers in these races,no one would talk about anything but Iraq, but the question is: Can they keep the subject where theywant it?

DIANE FARRELL, Candidate for House of Representatives: I'mDiane Farrell. I'm the one running for Congress on the Democratic ticket.

GWEN IFILL: Democrat Diane Farrell is hoping to unseatCongressman Shays in the November general election.

NED LAMONT, Candidate for United States Senate: My name isNed Lamont. I'm running for Senate. I'm challenging Joe Lieberman.

GWEN IFILL: Ned Lamont is taking on Senator Lieberman in theDemocratic primary. Both are working overtime to tap into anti-war discontent.

NED LAMONT: I'm challenging him on the war, challenging himon our priorities here in this country.

GWEN IFILL: Lamont, a millionaire, is spending part of hisfortune telling anti-war Democrats they have a choice.

NED LAMONT: Joe Lieberman sincerely supports the invasion. Hesincerely supports the continued stay-the-course strategy. He's talked about leaving ourtroops there for years more. He's a man of integrity; I don't question that. He sincerely supports a bad policy.

GWEN IFILL: Perhaps people just believe he believes what hebelieves and that's OK?

NED LAMONT: Not if you're wrong. Not if you see the way it'sharmed our country. Not if you see what it's done to our international standing around the world. That'snot good enough. Being sincere in your wrong-headed beliefs, we demand more than that.

GWEN IFILL: Farrell nearly beat Shays two years ago, winning48 percent of the vote.

DIANE FARRELL: When I contrast 2004 to 2006, very simply,the issues haven't gone away; in fact, they've intensified.

GWEN IFILL: The prevailing emotion, according to Farrell...

DIANE FARRELL: Oh, extreme frustration. The best example Ican give is I was at a parade on Memorial Day weekend, and a World War II veteran came up to me. Andnot even a member of my own party, but he knew who I was.

He put his hands squarely on my shoulders, and he said,"Do you realize that we were in and out of World War II at a faster pace than we find ourselves today inIraq?"

And here's a gentleman who you would assume would bepredisposed to be supporting the military option that the administration has exercised, and yet even he seesthe lack of a plan.

Leaving options open

GWEN IFILL: Shays, however, is betting his campaign on thechance that just enough Connecticutvoters agree with him, especially Republicans like Bob Arrix.

BOB ARRIX, Connecticut Resident: He is a moderate, and he'sOK by me, as long as he has a strong support for the war. We cannot fall victim to the cut-and-runphilosophy that is beginning to permeate the left wing of the Democratic Party.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Hi, folks. Joe Lieberman. Pleasure tosee you. Are you enjoying this today?

GWEN IFILL: Lieberman has one other option. If he loses theprimary in August, he can still leave the Democratic Party and run this fall as an independent. Pollsshow he'd easily win a three-way contest, but Lieberman says he's not ready to make that leap yet.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I am focused on winning theDemocratic primary on August 8th. I am going to be a candidate in the Democratic primary on August 8th. Thequestion of whether I keep another option open, if I'm surprised and it doesn't go as well on August 8th as Ithink, is a decision I really haven't made.

GWEN IFILL: But for Shays, the debates over Iraq means thereis no off-ramp.

Are you willing to lose your seat on this issue?

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Well, absolutely. I mean, I don'twant to, but if I'm put on the back bench or thrown out, I'll know that what I was doing was fighting forsomething I believe in.

GWEN IFILL: A calculated risk for both men this electionyear.