'Selfish' Joe plays its safe with his seat in the Senate

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The Independent US

Our Joe, as they call the Democratic running-mate here, isn't exactly betting his political life on this election. He can lose alongside Al Gore next week and still keep the lease on his flat in Washington DC. They might call him Cunning Joe.

Our Joe, as they call the Democratic running-mate here, isn't exactly betting his political life on this election. He can lose alongside Al Gore next week and still keep the lease on his flat in Washington DC. They might call him Cunning Joe.

Or Selfish Joe, which is what a lot of folk have been thinking, on account of his running in not one race but two at the same time. He is Joe Lieberman for vice-president, of course. But he is also Joe Lieberman for US senator for Connecticut.

He could have played it differently. Until last Friday Mr Lieberman had the chance to pull out of the Senate race, which had been his main focus until Mr Gore knocked on his door early in August.

But he let the deadline pass, which means that residents of Connecticut are going to be asked to vote for him for two different jobs.

He is astonishingly popular in the state. For that reason, there is no chance he will not win the Senate contest, even though he has paid almost no attention to it for weeks. (Latest polls have him beating his Republican opponent by about four to one.) But he may now be testing that popularity.

At a Stamford diner yesterday, Nicholas Manos, an engineer, admitted he was disappointed. "It bothers me, because I feel he is using the Senate as a fallback. And to me that is a sign that he thinks he and Gore are going to lose."

But it is the Democratic party itself that has most cause to be aggrieved. If Mr Lieberman is elected vice-president next week, he will be unable to take the new Senate seat he will surely also win.

It will then be up to the Governor, John Rowland, to appoint a new senator until a special election in 2002. Mr Rowland, however, is a Republican.

Thus, at the very time the Democrats are straining desperately to win back enough seats in the Senate to overturn Republican control - they will need a net gain of six - Mr Lieberman has put his own seat in immediate peril.

"Such selfishness is unworthy of a senator who has cultivated an image of putting the public good well ahead of personal gain," a commentary in the Hartford Courant blustered this week. "Mr Lieberman is mistaken if he believes that most Connecticut voters will forgive him for taking them for granted."

Such was the outrage of John Orman, a political science professor at Fairfied University, that he tried to sue the senator to stop him running two races at once.

But the senator believes he had a responsibility to stay in the Senate race. "I really think it would be, in many ways, an act of bad faith if I pulled out," he said recently.

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