It’s been a rough couple of days for the presidential campaign of Sen. Joe Lieberman.
It started Monday, when Lieberman angered NAACP leadership by skipping a presidential candidates’ forum at the group’s annual convention. The senator addressed, and apologized to, the convention Thursday, but not before Kweisi Mfume declared him and two other absentee candidates to be “persona non grata.”
Lieberman’s campaign said the senator had a series of “personal and private” meetings scheduled Monday in the New York City area. But the situation got worse for Lieberman earlier this week when the New Haven Register revealed that the senator’s schedule Monday included an interview taping with Fox News talk-show host Bill O’Reilly.
Connecticut NAACP President Jimmy Griffin, who attended the organization’s national convention in Miami Beach, where the forum took place, told the Register that Lieberman’s absence was “a disgrace” and said the interview with O’Reilly “should upset us.”
Also on Monday, Lieberman’s campaign-finance director Shari Yost resigned, and his top fundraiser Jennifer Yocham did the same on Tuesday. Lieberman’s new finance director is his head of fundraising in California, Tracy Sturman. Yost and Yocham will reportedly stay with the campaign as consultants.
On Tuesday, Lieberman addressed a candidates’ forum of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest gay-rights organization, and spent much of his opening statement talking about…the economy.
As the senator outlined his views on creating jobs, improving health care, and reducing the deficit, the 300 gay and lesbian activists in the audience shifted in their seats and sporadically offered lukewarm applause. It was a tepid serving of rhetorical vegetables after the red meat offered up by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who casually reminded the crowd of his signing the nation’s first civil-unions bill, and former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, who criticized “this right-wing idiot — uh, ideology.”
Like Sen. John Kerry, Lieberman drew hisses from the audience when he declined to support gay marriage, essentially saying that marriage is a historic, cultural institution.
It’s not quite all doom and gloom for the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate. From April to June, Lieberman’s campaign raised a respectable $5.1 million, after raising only $3 million in the preceding three months — a total that many campaign watchers thought was disappointing for a national figure with high name recognition.
But Lieberman fell from his party’s fourth-highest fundraiser in April to fifth today, surpassed by the surging tide of Dean, who raised about $7.5 million
Also this week, reports emerged that the belt tightening on Lieberman’s campaign will affect two of the senator’s own children.
Matt and Rebecca Lieberman were being paid combined annual salaries of $100,000 each as fundraisers, and the campaign confirmed to CNN that the siblings will take pay cuts, reportedly 20 percent each.
When asked about Lieberman’s recent troubles, an advisor to a rival campaign said that too many of the senator’s campaign events have been around “bite-sized policy ideas that aren’t exciting voters.” He pointed to Lieberman’s proposal for a $150 billion American Center for Cures, a ten-year plan to speed development of cures for chronic diseases by funding research and encouraging faster drug development.
“Instead of a health care plan, he has a ‘Center for Cures,’” the adviser said. “It’s a double problem, because it wastes money, and wastes bites at the message apple.”
Lieberman’s campaign isn’t dead yet, obviously. He’s emphasizing economic issues on his “Joe’s Jobs Tour,” an issue that is likely to resonate if the economy doesn’t pick up before the primaries in February. And he may have some advantages in the primary schedule.
As the Des Moines Register reported, Lieberman is paying “passing attention to Iowa Democrats, and [focusing] on Arizona and other states that have moved their primaries closer to Iowa’s leadoff caucuses.”
Lieberman’s strategists could be calculating that their man will get a pass for not taking win, place, or show in the labor-heavy, farm-state Iowa or New Hampshire, whose contest will be dominated by the New England battle between Dean and Kerry. Six days after the Granite State casts its votes, the terrain shifts to six states, most of whom are considered more conservative and arguably Lieberman territory: Arizona, Delaware, New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.
Michigan’s presidential caucuses are four days later, and on Feb. 10 the battle will shift to two more conservative states, Virginia and Tennessee.
— Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service, is a regular contributor to NRO.