Everyone was less enthused when it emerged that at one of the Connecticut casinos Schlesinger/Gold used to patronize, he had gotten a "Wampum card" a kind of frequent flier bonus card issued to gamblers based on the volume of bets. Opinion dropped even further when, after he said he couldn't remember having any gambling debts, it came out that Schlesinger had paid more than $28,000 to settle lawsuits with two Atlantic City Casinos in 1990 and 1994. Schlesinger calls the gambling stories 20-year-old non-issues, and says he never broke any laws.
Now that Lieberman is planning to run as an independent, which splits the Democratic vote, there's talk among GOP election planners about finding someone who can put up a good showing. Connecticut has 671,656 Democrats, 449,727 Republicans and 844,433 other registered voters, meaning a strong GOP candidate could have a legitimate chance in a three-way race. "There would be a lot of interest of having a strong candidate run," says one Republican official in Washington. "If you split that thing three ways anything can happen."
Unfortunately for the Republicans, there is no way to remove Schlesinger from the ballot he can only step down voluntarily. Connecticut's party chair and Republican governor both made it clear they wanted him to go, but Schlesinger is having none of it. "I'm not leaving the race under any circumstances," he says. Party operatives have even started comparing him to Katherine Harris, the unloved Florida Congresswoman whose seemingly hopeless insistence on running for the Senate has infuriated Republicans who see a chance to take a seat there slipping away thanks to her unpopularity.
But Schlesinger's intransigence hasn't stopped Republicans from dreaming. At the Republican National Committee meeting in Minneapolis last week, there was talk of how the Democratic split might be exploited. Says one GOP strategist who was at the Minneapolis meetings: "If Lieberman loses the primary and runs as an independent, there are people in Republican circles who want to raise money for him because they agree with him. Then the question is how much acrimony is left over from his excommunication."
Lieberman caucusing with the Republicans seems about as likely right now as Schlesinger dropping out. But you can still sense unease when talking to Democrats. Some have worried about what would happen if the popular Governor Jody Rell or centrist Republican House member Chris Shays were slotted in for Schlesinger. But both are in hot races important to the GOP, and neither is likely capable of taking out even a wounded Lieberman. One thing is clear: If the GOP has any plans to make Schlesinger disappear and pull a magic candidate out of the hat, the Dems haven't caught wind of it. "I have yet to see evidence that they've got a viable candidate to put on the ticket," says a Democratic strategist.