Lieberman vows to fight on after Democrats reject pro-war stance

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Just hours after being ditched by Democrat voters in Connecticut in favour of an anti-war political neophyte, Senator Joe Lieberman has defiantly refused to yield ground, filing an application to run as an independent candidate in the general election this November.

Final returns in the closely watched Connecticut primary race showed that Mr Lieberman, who just six years ago came within a hair's breadth of becoming America's Vice-President, had lost to his Democrat rival Ned Lamont, the millionaire founder of a cable television company, by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

His defeat came at the end of a hard-fought contest that revolved almost entirely around the single issue of Mr Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq and his perceived affinity with President George Bush. He becomes the first high-profile political casualty of the on-going Iraqi conflict in the United States.

While the result was catastrophic for Mr Lieberman, the margin was not as wide as some in his camp had feared. Polls taken before Tuesday's vote suggested that Mr Lieberman would win in a three-way race in November against both Mr Lamont and the expected Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger.

"I'm definitely going forward," said Mr Lieberman, who, by filing to run as an independent is creating a new party, called Connecticut for Lieberman. "I feel that I closed strong in the primary. I feel we began to get our message across strongly and we're going to keep on going. This race is going to be all about who can get more done and who can be a better representative of Connecticut."

The three-term senator acknowledged that he may face pressure from Democrat colleagues on Capitol Hill to stand down and clear the path for Mr Lamont in November, but was adamant that he could not be persuaded to relinquish the chance of being returned to the Senate this autumn.

"I'll always take the calls of friends, but my mind is made up," he told NBC News. "I'm going forward. I'm going forward because I'm fed up with all the partisanship in Washington that stops us from getting anything done."

In the campaign, Mr Lieberman could not change the subject from the Iraq war and his support of it. He was haunted, in particular, by images of the so-called "kiss" when President Bush, moments after delivering his State of the Union address in 2005, embraced him publicly.

The leadership of the Democratic Party moved swiftly to throw their support behind Mr Lamont, abandoning Mr Lieberman who for so many years has been one of the party's senior figures.

Senator Charles Schumer, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader in the US Senate, issued a joint statement making clear the party's new allegiance to Mr Lamont. "The Democratic voters of Connecticut have spoken and chosen Ned Lamont as their nominee," they said. "Both we and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fully support Mr Lamont's candidacy. Congratulations to Ned on his victory and on a race well run."

Jubilant in victory, the Lamont camp vowed to put pressure on party leaders to try to convince Mr Lieberman to abandon his bid as an independent candidate. "We think Joe should respect the will of the Democrats," said Tom Swan, a campaign adviser. "We will seek and welcome help for any Democratic leaders in making sure that Joe respects the will of Democratic voters."

Mr Lamont, 52, has never held statewide office in Connecticut or elsewhere and finds himself catapulted to a national stage with little political experience. While he painted himself as a liberal alternative to Mr Lieberman, he comes from a background of wealth and privilege.

"Tonight we voted for a big change," Mr Lamont told supporters after learning of his win late on Tuesday evening.