In the 2000 presidential election, 531 votes were all that stopped Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., from becoming the nation's first Jewish vice president. Six years later, Lieberman is fighting for his political life against Ned Lamont, an upstart opponent in Connecticut's surprisingly tight Democratic primary.
In an exclusive appearance on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Lieberman blasted Lamont, a Connecticut businessman with limited political experience, as a "one trick pony," calling him an "unproductive polarizer" for a campaign that has largely centered on the senator's support for the Iraq war.
"My opponent is essentially saying to [voters]: Use this primary to vote against George Bush. But I'm not George Bush," Lieberman told Stephanopoulos, ABC News' chief Washington correspondent.
"I think that those that got us into this mess should be held accountable," said Lamont, who also appeared exclusively on "This Week" in a companion interview.
Lamont acknowledged that the Iraq war has taken center stage in this unusual intraparty fight that threatens to oust Lieberman, an 18-year incumbent, from a relatively secure seat. But he added the election was about much than just Lieberman's support for the president's policies in Iraq.
"He's got 18 years of experience, but he's using it on the wrong side of the big issues of the day," Lamont told ABC News. "Eighteen years of experience, and he got our troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war in Iraq. Eighteen years of experience, and he's done nothing for universal health care. Eighteen years of experience, and he's trying to have it both ways on affirmative action, Social Security."
Lieberman is no stranger to close races. In 1988, Lieberman won his first Senate seat in a narrow contest against three-term Republican incumbent Lowell Weicker by wooing Republicans disillusioned with Weicker's voting record and unifying Democrats.
In 2000, then-Vice President Al Gore chose Lieberman as his running mate largely because of his reputation as a bipartisan broker. Lieberman, known as a foreign affairs hawk with a record of support for environmental causes dear to Gore, was the first Democrat to openly chastise President Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Now, the same conservative style that won him his seat in the Senate 18 years ago and nearly delivered the vice presidency in 2000 could spell the end of Lieberman's political career at the hands of his own party's voters in his home state.
"It's crunch time," said Lieberman, who has fallen from Connecticut's most popular to the precipice of defeat. While Lieberman accepts that his support of the Iraq war is not popular within the Democratic Party, he was quick to point out that his support has not been unquestioning. "I've been scapegoated, to tell you the truth, because I have not hesitated to criticize the conduct of this war."
Still, he acknowledged the inter-party criticism didn't catch him off-guard. "I'm not surprised at it, because I know that I've taken a position on one issue, Iraq, which is not shared by a lot of other Democrats."
Lieberman remained steadfast on Iraq and insisted that the war is in the best interests of the American people.