Union Tribune

January 17, 2004

N.H. race is all uphill for Lieberman


DOVER, N.H. Elizabeth Lund came to the Elks Club here thinking she might give her vote in this state's first-in-the-nation Democratic primary to Sen. Joe Lieberman.

"I believe I'm leaning toward Joe," the homemaker from nearby Durham said as she waited for the Connecticut senator to appear at the snow-covered lodge in southeastern New Hampshire.

But as Lieberman delivered a lengthy speech in which he repeatedly linked his views to those of former President Bill Clinton, Lund turned and whispered: "He's losing me."

Later, Lund said she was leaning toward retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who, ironically, is the candidate many believe is most closely aligned with the former president.

That kind of dynamic was not unique as the 61-year-old Lieberman, who is skipping the Iowa caucuses to concentrate on New Hampshire, pushed himself through 14-hour days this week stumping all across the Granite State as the Jan. 27 primary approaches.

Despite his intense campaigning in person and with a large TV advertising effort, and his symbolic gesture of temporarily relocating to the state Lieberman appears to be making little headway in New Hampshire.

Not even his like-mindedness with Clinton, still hugely popular among Democrats, seems to help.

He is running a distant fourth in most public polls far behind Howard Dean, Clark and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

After a Lieberman appearance before a group of students at Alvirne High School in Hudson, N.H., 18-year-old Ryan Horan said he was still dissatisfied at the senator's support for the war in Iraq.

Horan, like Lund, found himself turning to Clark.

For Lieberman, "It's been uphill sledding from the start," said Rich Killion, director of polling for Franklin Pierce College.

"The base Democratic primary voter views the senator as the most outspoken supporter of the war. But the base primary voter is passionately opposed to the war."

That particular passion fueled Dean's rise to front-runner status, Killion noted.

Lieberman also seems to be having trouble making many New Hampshire voters believe his campaign refrain that "I'm the best-qualified Democrat to beat Bush."

Although Lund said she was attracted to Lieberman's experience and integrity, she added, "I want to know he has a chance of winning."

By that, Lund meant a Democrat capable of beating President Bush, which seemed to be the main concern of Democratic activists at the Elks Club and other events this week.

Elise Daniels, a Durham librarian, said she won't vote for Lieberman because "he's too conservative for me."

Others saw Lieberman as moderate and deemed it a plus.

Howard Levy, an insurance office manager from Bedford, said, "I'll vote for anyone who can beat Bush. Of all the Democrats, (Lieberman) probably is the one who's conservative enough to draw votes across party lines."

Peter Pappas, a golf pro from Dover, said he believes that Lieberman "is the only one who can beat Bush. I think he's going to attract a lot of independents. You need independents to win in New Hampshire."

Lieberman agrees, repeatedly telling audiences that his moderate views will draw independents, as Clinton did in 1992.

The Connecticut lawmaker's campaign has made a concerted effort to reach independent voters who supported Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in his upset victory over George W. Bush here in the 2000 primary.

Independents can vote in partisan primaries in New Hampshire.

At a gathering called "McCain-iacs for Joe" at a home in Bedford, host Donald Byrne said he was an independent who has never voted for a Democrat but that he was supporting Lieberman.

About 280 independents and 150 former McCain supporters have endorsed him, Lieberman press aide Kristin Carvell said.

Lieberman has joined in the round-robin criticism among Democratic contenders, though some say his comments have a softer edge.

One of his themes has been the statement, "I didn't just fall out of nowhere into this party or into this campaign," an apparent jab at Clark, who did not register as a Democrat until after announcing his candidacy.

Lieberman also contrasts his support for the military and for preserving the parts of Bush's tax cuts that favor the middle class with Dean's positions.

But mainly, he asks voters to "look at my record, at 30 years of experience and the ideas for a better and safer future that I have put forward over the last 12 months."

"If you want to beat George Bush and are uneasy about Howard Dean or unsure about Wes Clark, I'm your man," Lieberman says.