Dems to Lieberman: Ditch the Double-Dipping!

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One thing about keeping your feet in two races: It's awfully easy to lose your balance. No one understands the hazards of this peculiar situation better than Joseph Lieberman — who's not only running for his third term as a U.S. senator, but also happens to be running for vice president of the United States. Thanks to an esoteric Connecticut law, Lieberman can campaign for both posts, and could, theoretically, win both races. In the case of twin victories, the vice presidency would take precedence, leaving Connecticut's Republican governor to hand-pick Lieberman's replacement — a possibility that strikes fear into the hearts of Dems eager to regain control of the Senate. The final count November 7 could be extremely close, and Lieberman's seat may well prove critical.

There's plenty of time for nail-biting yet: Lieberman has another couple of weeks to bow out of the race without inflicting serious damage on Connecticut Democrats. At the moment, he appears perfectly content to ride out the two campaigns, waving the controversy aside with a smile. If Lieberman did abandon his Senate seat before the October 27 deadline, Connecticut's Democratic Central Committee would choose an alternate candidate to run against little-known Republican challenger Philip Giordano, currently the mayor of Waterbury. Several popular Democrats have been mentioned as possible replacements — and all of them stand a far better than average chance of beating Giordano.

So Lieberman finds himself in a weird, although not unique, situation. His decision follows the precedent established by Lyndon Johnson, who kept campaigning for his Senate seat even as he joined John F. Kennedy's quest for the White House. Lloyd Bentsen also hedged his bets during his ill-fated 1988 crusade alongside Michael Dukakis. In neither of these cases, however, were the candidates under pressure to defend a potential swing seat.

Predictably, Lieberman's decision to stick out both races has raised a few eyebrows — but those incredulous expressions aren't decorating just Republican faces. GOP veep contender Dick Cheney surprised no one by taking aim at his opponent: Monday (a day Lieberman happened to be campaigning for his Senate seat), chuckling that Lieberman must be nervous about his chances at winning a spot in the executive branch. "Otherwise he wouldn't be working so hard to hang on to his day job," Cheney pointed out. But what did throw the talk show circuit into turmoil was this: For perhaps the first time in history, many Democrats seem to agree with Cheney's assessment. They're worrying publicly that Lieberman's refusal to hang up his Senate hat could not only send the message that Gore-Lieberman insiders are not particularly confident, but also that by holding on to his seat, Lieberman is jeopardizing Democrats' chance to regain the Senate in November.

And the rumblings of discontent are flourishing. Sunday, New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli, who's leading the Democrats' reelection bid, announced on "Meet the Press" that stepping down from his Senate race would be "the right thing" for Lieberman to do. Connecticut voters appear torn as they weigh the issue against the candidate: Recent poll numbers indicate they are split on whether their native son should stay in the statewide race — but the same poll shows Lieberman's overall approval ratings at astronomical levels.