Sen. Joseph Lieberman registered as little more than a ghost in Iowa, and his decision not to contest that state’s caucuses may come back to haunt him in New Hampshire next week.
The Connecticut senator, considered the first viable Jewish candidate for president, decided in September to bypass Iowa’s Democratic caucus and focus his attention on the Jan. 27 New Hampshire contest, followed by primaries a week later in South Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma and Delaware.
The strategy has kept him largely out of the public eye in recent weeks and makes it critical that he do well in New Hampshire.
That job was hard enough before the Iowa caucuses, when Lieberman had to contend with strong New Hampshire polling by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Gen. Wesley Clark.
The surprise turnout in the Iowa caucuses — some precincts reported three times as much turnout as in 2000 — showed that Lieberman’s assessment that he was not viable in the state might have been an oversimplification.
Edwards and Kerry also were not considered favorites in September, when Lieberman made his decision, but they ended up doing well and likely will retain momentum from Iowa heading into New Hampshire.
Lieberman, by contrast, has been an afterthought in media coverage the past few weeks as he campaigns in New Hampshire. Clark, who also opted out of Iowa, campaigned in South Carolina on Monday and appeared in New Hampshire toward the end of the day.
Polls show that Lieberman’s support has been slipping in the Granite State. The latest American Research Group poll in New Hampshire, taken Jan. 16-18, had Dean leading the state with 28 percent of the vote, though slipping from a high of close to 40 percent.
Clark was second in the most recent poll, with 20 percent, followed by Kerry with 19 percent, Edwards with 8 percent and then Lieberman with 6 percent.
Lieberman received the endorsement Monday of New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Manchester Union-Leader. Given the paper’s tough conservative bent, however, it’s questionable how much it will help Lieberman’s primary campaign.
Lieberman’s campaign said the choice to bypass Iowa was born of the most practical consideration: where to spend limited cash.
“At the time, we had to make some decisions about resource allocations and we had to allocate resources in places where we had a chance to win,” said Dan Gerstein, a Lieberman campaign spokesman.
Several candidates already had better campaign operations and ties to voters in Iowa.
Lieberman officials also note that New Hampshire allows registered independents to vote in the Democratic primary, which could aid Lieberman, who is considered among the most conservative of the Democratic hopefuls.
Lieberman is running in part on his support for the U.S.-led war against Iraq last year. That’s likely to play better in conservative New Hampshire than in Iowa, considered an anti-war state, said Ann Lewis, a former Clinton adviser.
“Iowa has a history of a stronger peace constituency than many other early states,” said Lewis, who chairs the Women’s Vote Center at the Democratic National Committee. “There were reasons to think that Joe Lieberman, whose campaign is largely based on the war being the right thing to do, would have had an uphill battle.”
Gerstein said the campaign has no second thoughts about the decision to skip Iowa, noting that Lieberman has had New Hampshire virtually to himself in recent weeks.
Paulee Lipsman, who was Lieberman’s co-chair in Iowa until he backed out of the contest, says Lieberman helped make his own bed in Iowa by failing to campaign seriously there even before September.
“I think the strategy of not playing in Iowa has hurt him around the country,” said Lipsman, who serves as director of the Iowa House Democratic Research Staff. She voted for Kerry. “The show is in Iowa, and he’s not on the stage.”
Gephardt, who campaigned as the candidate from the state next door, had won Iowa in 1988.
Lieberman last month rented an apartment in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, to house himself and his campaigning family. He had Rabbi Levi Krinsky, the regional director of Lubavitch of New Hampshire, bring his kitchen up to kosher standards.
No matter how he does in New Hampshire, Lieberman likely will stay in the race through the Feb. 3 contests. Lieberman campaign officials believe they have viable chances in Delaware, Oklahoma and South Carolina.
Arizona, which also goes to the polls Feb. 3, once was seen as one of Lieberman’s best states, but campaign officials now are downplaying expectations there.
Without a showing above expectations in any of the states that go to the polls in the next two weeks, analysts say Lieberman likely will lose momentum, have trouble raising additional money and be forced to exit the race.
“Some folks around here believe a third-place finish in New Hampshire is the goal,” a Lieberman campaign official said.
Lieberman’s aides quietly were hoping that Dean would win the Iowa caucuses because the contrasts between Lieberman and Dean would be easier to express.
Instead, Kerry won 38 percent of the vote, Edwards 32 percent and Dean 18 percent — a disappointing finish for Dean, the one-time front-runner in Iowa.
Kerry, who has aimed much of his fire at Dean, on Monday night was able to assume the front-runner’s prerogative of taking on the president.
“George Bush, to put it quite simply, has run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country, and we are going to turn it around by joining the community of nations,” he said. “We will go back to the United Nations and we will turn over a new chapter in America’s relationship with the world.”
Gephardt’s departure from the race could signal an end to a 27-year political career in Washington.
“This didn’t come out the way we wanted,” Gephardt said Monday in Des Moines. “But I’ve been through tougher fights in my life. When I watched my 2-year-old son fight terminal cancer and win, it puts everything into perspective.”
Dennis Kucinich received 1 percent of the vote. Gen. Wesley Clark, Rev. Al Sharpton and Lieberman did not reach even 1 percent.
“There was one Lieberman person out of 250 at my caucus,” Lipsman said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.