Lieberman undecided on whether to back Republican or Dem in Senate race

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is undecided on whom to endorse in his state’s Senate race — and he has good relationships with the major candidates on both sides of the aisle.

Lieberman’s support is a grand prize being chased in the Connecticut campaign, because the famously solitary-minded senator could draw Democratic as well as Republican voters.

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“I’m not sure,” Lieberman told The Hill when asked about an endorsement. “The first thing I’m going to do for now is to do what good independents do, which is to wait and see who both parties nominate. And then I’ll decide what I want to do, either endorse somebody or stay out of it.”

Lieberman notes he knows Attorney General Dick Blumenthal (D) the best, but he’s also interacted with former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) in education matters. Earlier this year, the senator was seen warmly greeting former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) when Simmons visited the Capitol.

“I’m not sure, but I’m watching it with interest. I know both of them. Of course, I know Dick Blumenthal better, but I know Linda McMahon, and I’ve talked to her over the years, particularly when she was involved in education matters in the state,” Lieberman said.

His nod is also being closely watched because of past history: Blumenthal, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee, in 2006 endorsed the man who had beaten Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary, Ned Lamont.

Lieberman won the contest as an Independent candidate and Blumenthal worked hard to stay in touch with the senator during and since the election.

Retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) told The Hill he hasn’t considered whom Lieberman might support and has not asked him to support Blumenthal.

“I haven’t even thought about it. I’ve been so busy, it hasn’t crossed my mind,” said Dodd, who is leading the Senate effort to pass a financial regulatory reform bill. “I think I’ll let Joe make up his own mind, you know?”

Polls show McMahon leading in the GOP primary for the seat by a nearly 10-point margin. The most recent poll by Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University had McMahon at 44 percent to 34 percent for Simmons.

Blumenthal is one of the most popular politicians in Connecticut. He is ahead of both McMahon and Simmons by double-digit margins in election match-ups.

McMahon has vowed to spend as much as $50 million of her personal fortune on the race, according to reports, and the other candidates would be hard-pressed to match her. She has released an ad attacking Blumenthal for his campaign contributions.

State Democrats and Republicans have their nominating conventions Friday and Saturday in Hartford. Each party is expected to endorse a Senate candidate Friday night. The primary is Aug. 10.

Lieberman has been nettling Democrats since the 2008 election, in which he famously endorsed the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), instead of President Barack Obama. That angered Senate Democrats and nearly cost Lieberman his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. He then opposed some elements of the Democrats’ healthcare reform bill last year and this year, further angering some Democrats.

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Recently, Lieberman has even tangled with the White House, using his chairmanship to subpoena Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over information he wants on November’s shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. The impasse is ongoing, and Lieberman recently suggested it might be headed for court.

Given that history, Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor and Senate analyst for The Cook Political Report, said Lieberman would be taking a chance if he got involved in the Connecticut race.

“He can draw voters from both sides, but there’s a risk to him in endorsing anybody,” Duffy said. “If he does not endorse Blumenthal, it’s just one more thing Democrats can hold over his head.”