WATERBURY, Conn. — Stripped of support from the Democratic Party and working with a new campaign staff, Senator Lieberman kicked off his independent bid for re-election yesterday with a visit planned to this gritty city that last year re-elected a mayor who lost his party's primary.
Mr. Lieberman's late-morning visit to a Waterbury pizza joint — his first public appearance since losing Tuesday's primary and his first since dismissing his campaign staff — was to thank Waterbury for its fervent support during the primary. Mr. Lieberman won 60% of the vote here in his narrow loss to an anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont.
But it's also notable because Waterbury last year re-elected a mayor, Michael Jarjura, who lost his Democratic primary but won the general election in a write-in campaign.
Mr. Lieberman hopes for the same fortune. Although top Senate Democrats, including Senators Kerry and Kennedy of Massachusetts, Senator Reid of Nevada, Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Senators Schumer and Clinton of New York, are throwing their support to Mr. Lamont, Mr. Lieberman filed petitions Wednesday to mount an independent campaign.
"While I consider myself a devoted Democrat, I am even more devoted to my state and my country," Mr. Lieberman said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, a day after his stunning loss. "I think it would be irresponsible and inconsistent with my principles if I were to just walk off the field."
Mr. Lieberman said he fired his campaign manager and spokesman and asked for the resignations of his campaign staff. He planned to hire two longtime aides as campaign manager and communications director and to begin the search for a new pollster and press consultant.
"I do not blame my staff for my loss on Tuesday. I bear that responsibility," Mr. Lieberman said. "But now that we are entering a new and very different phase of the campaign, I wanted to bring in a new team."
Mr. Lieberman said he was not bothered by losing the support of his colleagues, noting he lost the primary even with their backing. "In the end, the people make up their own minds, and this is going to be a people's campaign," he said.
The defeat put Mr. Lieberman in the familiar role of a go-it-alone politician. He was the first prominent Democrat to openly criticize President Clinton's conduct with Monica Lewinsky. His support for the Iraq war and his defense of President Bush also have made him unpopular with members of his own party and have given Mr. Lamont a powerful platform on which to run.
Mr. Lieberman's 10,000-vote loss sets up a three-way race this fall among Mr. Lamont, Mr. Lieberman, and Republican Alan Schlesinger, who has trailed far behind both Democrats in recent polls.
Though having both Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Lamont on the ballot could split the Democratic vote, Mr. Schlesinger is not considered a major threat. His campaign stumbled in July after it was disclosed that he used a fake name to gamble at a Connecticut casino and had been sued over gambling debts at two New Jersey casinos.
A public policy professor at the University of Connecticut, Kenneth Dautrich, said Mr. Lieberman's name recognition and moderate stances would draw strong support from independent and Republican voters in November.
Mr. Lamont's views that appeal to liberal Democrats will likely turn away many unaffiliated and Republican voters, Mr. Dautrich said.
"For a variety of reasons, I think Lieberman is now in the driver's seat," Mr. Dautrich said. "We probably would expect to see Lieberman with a fairly handy lead as the election campaign begins."
The biggest challenge, Mr. Dautrich said, will likely be fund-raising. A multimillionaire who put $4 million of his own money into the primary, Mr. Lamont will also get donations from traditional Democratic sources.
"The one handicap is he doesn't have the deep pockets that Lamont has," Mr. Dautrich said. "Lamont can put his hand in his pocket and come out with a few million bucks, and Lieberman can't do that."
One strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Lieberman had about $2 million remaining after the primary race against Mr. Lamont.
Mr. Lieberman has long been one of Connecticut's most popular Democrats. He became just the fourth Senate incumbent since 1980 to lose a primary.
Mr. Lamont won by hammering away at Mr. Lieberman's support for the Iraq war and accusing him of being too close to Mr. Bush, repeatedly noting an incident in which Mr. Bush appeared to plant a kiss on the senator's cheek after his 2005 State of the Union address.
Mr. Lamont's campaign also was embraced by liberal bloggers, who saw it as a chance to take down an incumbent and play a bigger role in the Democratic Party.
Republicans seized on the results to paint Democrats as careless with the country's security.
"It's an unfortunate development, I think, from the standpoint of the Democratic Party to see a man like Lieberman pushed aside because of his willingness to support an aggressive posture in terms of our national security strategy," Vice President Cheney said from Jackson, Wyo.