Did bloggers cost Joe Lieberman an election?

Bloggers may have claimed their first victory in a high-profile election campaign.

At least that's how liberal bloggers are likely to tell this story, which climaxed Tuesday night when anti-war challenger Ned Lamont bested pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman to become Connecticut's Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

With 736 of 748 precincts reporting, Lamont, a millionaire with virtually no political experience, was leading by margin of 51.8 percent to 48.2 percent. Lieberman conceded defeat around 11 p.m. ET.

The campaign played out on two fronts. There was the routine advertising, speechifying, and door-to-door salesmanship common to all elections. And there was the Sphere, as bloggers like to call it nowadays--the loosely allied liberal and anti-war activists who saw this as a way to punish a prominent Democrat who had repeatedly defended the Iraq war as just and necessary.

In fact, not only did Lieberman endorse the ongoing military occupation of Iraq, but he frequently made statements that edged toward must-support-the-maximum-leader-during-wartime. A typical one: "In matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril."

That thinking might have been persuasive during World War II, but not during a "war on terror" that might last for the better part of the century and has already been going on for nearly five years.

Which brings us to activists at sites like Daily Kos or The Huffington Post, which saw an opportunity to make an example of the Democratic Party's former vice presidential nominee. The reasoning: If Lieberman could be eliminated, other pro-war Democrats would realize they're vulnerable and perhaps be more likely to revisit their public positions.

It's not a new strategy, of course. The Club for Growth has tried to use similar pressure to persuade candidates not to raise taxes. EMILY's List raises funds in hopes of helping pro-choice candidates and defeating pro-life ones. But this technique has never been used by bloggers in such a high-profile (not to mention successful) way before.

This strategy's instantiation in Connecticut wasn't always pretty. Lanny Davis, a lifelong liberal and President Clinton's former lawyer, wrote this week that he was savaged by his fellow Democrats for defending Lieberman. Davis described how he experienced "the hate and vitriol of bloggers on the liberal side of the aisle" and concluded "the far right does not have a monopoly on bigotry and hatred and sanctimony."

As a politechnical aside, Lieberman's defeat means that one of the Senate's most strident morality crusaders may be forced to retire. Lieberman has campaigned against violent video games, embraced a Web porn tax, and called for a .xxx domain. (He's also been supported by Silicon Valley leaders, probably more for his free-trading views than anything else.)

So what eventually led to Lieberman's primary loss on Tuesday? Was it the "netroots" or Connecticut voters deciding they didn't need any more "Joementum?"

It's hard to say. Few Democrats support the war in Iraq anyway (a CBS News poll last month found that 89 percent of Dems disapprove of Bush's handling of it), so it's not a stretch to conclude that Lieberman's aggressive hawkishness doomed him from the start. Then again, turning Lamont v. Lieberman into a national news story didn't hurt.

Remember that it's still too early to be writing "Joebituaries." Lieberman was quick to say that he'll be running as an independent in the November election, and his name recognition could easily make it a serious three-way race.

 

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