Sen. Leahy believes Sen. Lieberman should run only as a Democrat

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(Host) Senator Patrick Leahy says Joe Lieberman should stay out of the race for the U.S. Senate if he can’t win the Democratic nomination.

Lieberman said this week he’ll run as an independent if he loses a primary challenge next month.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The emergence of a contested Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Connecticut has put party leaders throughout New England in a very awkward position.

Do they support incumbent Senator Joseph Lieberman, who’s been a vocal supporter of President Bush’s war in Iraq? Or do they back the candidacy of businessman Ned Lamont, who’s made his opposition to the war the signature issue in his campaign?

The issue becomes even more complicated because the Democrats think they have an opportunity to regain control of the U.S. Senate in November, and a possible three-way race in Connecticut will enhance the Republican nominee’s chances of winning.

This week Massachusetts Senator John Kerry said he won’t support Lieberman in the primary because of the war issue.

Senator Patrick Leahy, as the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee, has emerged as a leading opponent of the war in Iraq.

Leahy says he hasn’t been asked to endorse either candidate in the Connecticut race, but he strongly opposes Lieberman’s decision to run as an independent if Lieberman loses the August 7th primary:

(Leahy) “I’m disappointed that he’s talking about running as an independent. He’s always run as a Democrat. He has a special responsibility as the Democrat’s nominee for vice president. He’s always had the support of the Democratic party. He ought to be willing to run as a Democrat. He’ll either win or lose the nomination, but if he doesn’t win the nomination then I would fully expect the Democratic party to support whoever does win it.”

(Kinzel) Recent polls show Lieberman with a 15- to 20-point lead, but the margin has narrowed considerably in the past few months.

Leahy says Lieberman’s announcement about running as an independent has actually hurt his efforts to win the Democratic primary:

(Leahy) “I think it did and I think it should. I mean, I’ve had people running against me in primaries and I was proud to run as a Democrat.”

(Kinzel) Leahy says he’ll support the winner of the Democratic primary and he plans to raise funds to help that candidate win election in November.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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