Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), the Democrat-turned-independent, who has had a rocky relationship with his former party over the years, says he may back the Republican nominee in the race for his seat.
Lieberman told The Hill he may endorse former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), a longtime friend. But he is not expected to make a decision before next year.
“I’m totally open on it,” Lieberman said. “I’m approaching it as an independent and will support whoever, at the end when a candidate is nominated, would be best for the state.”
“It’s no secret, I’m proud to say, that Chris and I have been personal friends for a long time and we’ve always worked very well together,” Lieberman added. “I’m glad he’s in the race. I think he’ll make a real contribution as a candidate.”
Lieberman was a Democrat for most of his political career but broke with the party after losing Connecticut’s Senate Democratic primary to Ned Lamont in 2006.
He won the election as an independent but continued to caucus with the Democrats in Washington.
Many Democrats, including longtime political partners, such as former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), backed Lamont, turning their relationships with Lieberman icy.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who knew Lieberman since their days together at Yale and helped recruit him to run for Senate in 1987, backed Lamont. He challenged Lieberman’s support for the Iraq war and even attended an October campaign rally for Lamont.
Lieberman called it a “rough spot” in his long relationships with Kerry and Dodd, who also campaigned for Lamont.
Both Kerry and Dodd eventually patched up the relationships.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is viewed as the frontrunner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Connecticut, also endorsed Lamont and campaigned with him.
Lieberman decided not to endorse Murphy, who was running for the House that year, despite initially planning to do so.
“It’s a little awkward for me now” to back the Democratic candidates “since they all endorsed my opponent,” Lieberman told The New Haven Independent in 2006.
“We go back a long way, that’s for sure,” Shays said. “Joe’s going to make up his mind.”
“Obviously I’d love his support. That’s a decision he will make sometime next year,” he said.
Shays said he got to know Lieberman in 1975 when he was a newly elected member of the Connecticut general assembly and Lieberman was majority leader in the state senate.
Shays beat the odds by passing an amendment through the Democrat-dominated assembly to give a million dollars to community action agencies. Lieberman and the Senate Democrats accepted the legislation, giving Shays a major legislative victory.
Lieberman represented Shays nearly ten years later as an attorney when Shays was sentenced to jail for contempt of court for speaking out critically about the judicial grievance system.
“He was the attorney pointing out that I shouldn’t have been in jail,” Shays said.
Shays noted that Lieberman’s mother was also a good friend.
“She was a wonderful supporter of mine for many years,” he said.
Shays said he expected Lieberman to decide about an endorsement next year but it’s not clear whether he would back a candidate before or after the primary.
Lieberman endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in December of 2007, well before he captured the GOP nomination.
Shays thinks he would have a good chance of beating Murphy or another Democrat in the 2012 general election but acknowledged he has a tough fight to win the GOP nomination.
A Quinnipiac University poll released Friday shows Shays trailing wrestling impresario Linda McMahon by 15 percentage points. Fifty percent of Republicans surveyed said they would vote for McMahon while 35 percent would vote for Shays.
“Actually, we’re a little closer than I thought,” Shays said.
The polls showed a much closer hypothetical match-up between Shays and Murphy. Murphy led by six points, 43 percent to 37 percent.
Shays would beat Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, 42 percent to 40 percent, according to the poll.
Democrats in Washington are supporting Murphy.