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Absolutely, Mr. Lieberman? Positively, Mr. Lamont!

Your Humble Blogger lives (at the moment) in the great state of Connecticut, which is generating a good deal of political chitchat at the present time. Looking at it from a game theory point of view, the matter is quite complicated. Remember, my ideal would be a powerful, thoughtful Democrat in the Senate who will both consistently vote with my Party and work to guide my Party to (a) a successful political future and (2) good policy decisions. I won’t get that, of course, but politics is in no way about getting what I want. The question is what I’m likely to get. There are, as I see it, a small number of possibilities.

First, the most likely, is that Mr. Lamont will run a distant but not too distant second to Mr. Lieberman in the primary, which will help Mr. Lamont’s future runs for state office, and which may affect Mr. Lieberman’s choices while serving out the term. If not actually changing his votes, it’s possible a scare will make him choose his rhetoric more carefully, paying some attention to party loyalty in the future. I would describe the outcome here as slightly better than the status quo: a Democratic senator with seniority and acumen who doesn’t do much for the party or its policies but usually votes the right way.

The next most likely possibility appears to be Mr. Lieberman’s jumping ship and running as an independent. My understanding is that he would have to begin preparing an independent run before the Democratic primary, and although he can’t (I think) withdraw from that primary, such preparations would very likely hand the nomination to Mr. Lamont. Then, in a three-way race, Mr. Lieberman would almost certainly win. That’s where things get interesting. As an ex-Democrat, it’s unlikely that Mr. Lieberman would caucus with the Democrats or get committee assignments from them. He might caucus with the Republicans, although it’s not clear to me that (barring some surprises in November from other states) there would be much benefit to the Republicans in giving much power to a man who, after all, is at the end of the day a liberal on almost every domestic policy issue. At any rate, the outcome here is a nominally independent Senator with seniority by years but not by power who will sometimes vote with the Ds but likely not as often as previous. This is pretty bad.

Next possibility: In a three-way race, Mr. Lieberman takes the conservative-Democrat vote and Mr. Lamont takes the left-Democrat vote, and the Republican candidate wins with 38% of the vote, and is beholden to the right wing of his own party. Such a candidate will vote Republican consistently, I would imagine, and although he would be unlikely to serve more than one term, still, that’s six years of a very bad outcome indeed.

Less probable: In a three-way race, Republicans vote for Mr. Lieberman but all the Democrats vote for Mr. Lamont, who wins with 45% or so. This would mean a Democratic senator with little seniority and minority support, which would mean not a lot of power in the Senate, but a consistent vote for the Ds.

Could happen: Mr. Lieberman loses the primary and chooses to bow to the party’s wish and back Mr. Lamont, who wins handily. This would mean a Democratic senator with little seniority but a star-in-the-making story, which would of course give him some influence within the party.

I suppose it could happen: Mr. Lieberman loses the primary and goes into a sulk, not running as an independent but refusing to endorse Mr. Lamont, who loses to the Republican, as the conservative-Democrat vote goes conservative, rather than Democrat. Yet another New England Republican star is born. Knowing that his base is in the center, he carefully plays the moderate in the Senate, building a coalition of support and forming a core of New England Republicans who are, in a closely divided Senate, able to keep the Senate in Republican hands while reining in the excesses of its leaders. Or something.

So, what does a fellow do? Early on, I figured that the strategic thing was to support Mr. Lamont, not because I particularly preferred him as a Senator (although I dislike Mr. Lieberman enough to accept the loss of seniority) but to send a message to Mr. Lieberman to Keep Left. However, the better Mr. Lamont does, the more likely it is that Mr. Lieberman will leave the Party, which opens the path to a variety of outcomes I don’t like very much.

If I could be sure Mr. Lieberman would stick with our Party, I could happily vote for Mr. Lamont, as there is only the scantest possibility of a bad outcome out of that. On the other hand, if I could be sure Mr. Lieberman would stick with our Party, I wouldn’t be so interested in voting for Mr. Lamont.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,


Do you think there's value in expressing your thoughts directly to Messers Lieberman and Lamont by letter? They're very good thoughts--

Dear Mr. Lieberman,
I like you as a Democrat, but wish you to Keep Left.

Dear Mr. Lamont,
You are an excellent candidate, and I wish you success both this year and in future elections.

--well, no, those aren't exactly your thoughts, you stated them yourself much more eloquently, but you get the idea. Expressing them merely through one anonymous vote hardly seems effective, no matter what your vote, no matter what the outcome.

If there isn't a clear advantage in either Mr. Lieberman or Mr. Lamont winning, then why vote in the primary at all? Simply to up the number of primary voters?

Some alternatives to consider:

(1) Don't vote. This has the advantage of saving some time and angst, while putting you solidly with the majority of your neighbors.

(2) Show up to vote, but spoil your ballot. This will increase demand for improvements in the voting process, though if you are voting on reliable equipment, you risk lessening the measured differences between reliable and unreliable equipment in percentage of spoiled ballots.

There are other matters on the ballot, particularly a primary race for Governor which is much less complicated from a game-theory point of view, so I wouldn't save all that much time and effort just skipping the Senate line. And, of course, to the extent that my vote sends a message, being understood as uninterested is an even worse outcome for me than being understood as an encouragement for Mr. Lieberman to leave the party.
Besides, given how the deadlines are, by the day of the primary, Mr. Lieberman will have already made his decision to leave the party or stick with it. The question is not so much how to vote as whether to put (minimal) energy into supporting Mr. Lamont, that is, signing up for his newsletter, displaying his signs, and donating to his campaign. All of this would be (minimally) helpful to Mr. Lamont's campaign now (more so last month, actually), and thus influence Mr. Lieberman's thinking now, while he still has time to think.
And Wayman is right, that in with that minimal effort should be a letter to Mr. Lieberman explaining that I will vote for the Democrat in the general election, whether it is him or not, and that I actually rather hope it is him, all things considered. Perhaps I'll draft such a note and post it for advice here.

Now that Lieberman has said clearly that he'll leave the Democratic party if he doesn't win the primary, I'd love to read your thoughts about whether such a threat in advance of a primary election is a legitimate tactic to use.

Lieberman is trying to scare Democratic voters such as yourself into voting for him, supporting him, and sending him money. If you don't do what he wants, the outcomes are all bad for Democrats, as you outlined (plus generating terrible news coverage of Democrats as a split party that can't even hold onto a long-time incumbent Democratic senator, which will hurt Democratic chances around the country). Is this different from threatening to steer federal funding to precincts within CT depending on his margin in that precinct? Or threatening to split from the party if he doesn't receive X dollars in campaign donations? Are there some tactics that are simply incompatible with free and fair elections?

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