Connecticut attorney general eyes Lieberman challenge

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who announced Monday he will seek a sixth term, is mulling a challenge against Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in 2012.

Multiple Connecticut Democrats, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Blumenthal has begun informing influential members of the state's political class that he will prepare for a run against Lieberman.

In an interview with The Hill, Blumenthal said he was focused on his current job.

“My only focus and my sole interest right now is on the race in 2010 and seeking reelection as attorney general,” he said.

Still, serving in the Senate “would be an honor, and it's always been a career goal,” Blumenthal added. “I've said that I look forward to continuing opportunities for public service in the future.”

Should Blumenthal run against Lieberman, it would set up a clash between two well-known Connecticut politicians. “He's probably the most popular Democrat in the state,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Douglas Schwartz.

Blumenthal's candidacy would also provide an outlet for Democrats who still harbor ill will toward Lieberman after he supported the war in Iraq and backed Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain says Steyer should drop out: 'I hate that guy' Sanders says idea he can't work with Republicans is 'total nonsense' GOP casts Sanders as 2020 boogeyman MORE (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential contest.

“I would certainly consider other opportunities that fit the skills I have, the aptitudes. The U.S. Senate would be a huge honor and a great challenge and opportunity,” Blumenthal said Monday. “We have two United States senators who are incumbents, and I would have to see what their plans are.”

In 2006, many Connecticut Democrats urged Blumenthal to mount a bid against Lieberman, who had become an outspoken supporter of the war in Iraq. Blumenthal demurred, and businessman Ned Lamont beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary.

In the general election, Lieberman ran as an Independent and beat Lamont with 50 percent of the vote to Lamont's 40. A Republican candidate took the remaining 10 percent.

Blumenthal's announcement robs Democrats of perhaps their strongest candidate for governor, though it is hardly a surprising move. Blumenthal has been wooed before, though he has repeatedly taken a pass on running for the state's top job.

“I will not be running for governor,” he told WDRC radio on Tuesday. “I will be running for reelection as attorney general, and I look forward to other opportunities for public service in the future.”

First elected in 1990, Blumenthal has served under three successive governors from other parties. Democrats have not elected a governor in the state since 1986, and though he has been pressured to run, Blumenthal has repeatedly said no.

“We're two years away, and I definitely wanted to clear the path for anyone else thinking of running for governor,” Blumenthal told The Hill on Tuesday.

His passivity has been seen by some as a potential drawback to a bid against Lieberman. Those in the state's activist class who urged him to run in 2006 said his entering the race now might be viewed as opportunism.

“If he was so afraid and hesitant and cautious about running against Lieberman when he thought it was going to be tough, is he going to run a cautious, careful, don't-take-risks campaign that people aren't going to rally around?” asked one former Lamont aide.

Others say Blumenthal's constant flirting with higher office requires him to begin laying the foundations for a run early, in order to convince Democrats he is serious about running.

"The conventional wisdom has always been he doesn't have the fire in the belly to be governor, but that he really wants to be senator," Schwartz said.

Even the ex-aide conceded: "The No. 1 priority is beating Lieberman. Any Democrat would be much better than what Lieberman is doing right now."

Lieberman finds himself in much worse political shape than in 2006. According to a December poll from Quinnipiac University, just 38 percent of Connecticut voters approve of Lieberman's job performance, while 54 percent say they disapprove. A majority of independents and three-quarters of Democrats disapprove of the junior senator.

Blumenthal may not find himself alone in a Democratic primary in 2012. Lamont would not rule out a bid in 2012, noting that the election won't take place for four years — a political eternity. Still, those closest to him say Lamont is keeping his options open.