Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, suggested today that vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Lieberman should abandon his senatorial re-election campaign.
In so doing, Liebermen would deny Connecticut’s Republican Gov., John Rowland, the chance to give the seat to a Republican if Lieberman, Al Gore’s running mate, should retain the White House for the Democrats.
“If indeed the prospects of the Gore ticket get better and better as the weeks go by, which I think they will, and (Lieberman) sees the real prospect of a Democratic majority in the Senate, which I think will become clearer, then Joe Lieberman has to make a personal decision,” Torricelli said today on NBC’s Meet the Press.
Asked whether that decision would be to get out of the Senate race, Torricelli said: “Well, it would from my perspective.”
As chair of the DSCC, Torricelli is leading the party’s drive to win the seats necessary to overcome the Republicans’ 54-46 advantage in the Senate.
“It is a difficult decision,” Torricelli added. “I’m glad I don’t have to make it. … I trust Joe Lieberman to make the right decision.”
But Lieberman, campaigning on Sunday, told reporters that replacing him by committee now would cause “a lot of chaos” for the party.
“The U.S. Senate seat is too important to be filled on the run,” Lieberman added..
Lieberman Already Nominated
Connecticut Democrats nominated Lieberman at their state convention July 14, three weeks before Gore chose him as his running mate.
Torricelli claimed that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, “would clearly win the seat” if he were appointed even as late as Oct. 27, the last day for Lieberman to quit.
Contacted at his home, Blumenthal disagreed with Torricelli and said he does not expect Lieberman to abandon the race.
“I think he has made the absolutely right decision — to stay in the Senate race — and will continue to do so,” Blumenthal said.
Recent polls reflect an extremely tight race with the Gore-Lieberman ticket holding an edge over Texas Gov. George W. Bush and his running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.
“I think Joe Lieberman cares as much about a Democratic Senate as I do,” Torricelli said, and for that reason will leave the race “if indeed it is clear he’s going to be elected vice president.”
But Lieberman said he “consulted with a lot of people in Connecticut and in the Connecticut Democratic Party” after Gore chose him. “The consensus was that I stay in,” he said.
Muttering of Dissent
Mutterings of dissent have appeared in recent days within the state party. Councils in two Connecticut towns have passed resolutions urging him to withdraw, and Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz said Thursday she was “a little disappointed” by his decision to continue. She said Democrats around the state “who think very highly of Senator Lieberman” have spoken of their disappointment.
If Lieberman should stay in the race, then win the vice presidency, state law would allow Rowland to appoint his replacement until 2002, the next statewide election. Democrats control the Legislature, however, and their leaders say they could call a special election next year. That’s the course Lieberman suggests.
“The bottom line is … I’m going to stay in as a candidate,” Liberman added on Sunday. Asked if there is a chance he will change his mind, he said: “I don’t see any, no.”
Lieberman is not the only politician in recent decades to run for both a Senate seat and the vice presidency. Lyndon B. Johnson, the Senate majority leader, did in 1960, when he became President Kennedy’s vice president.
—The Associated Press contibuted to this report.