The Magazine

And Bringing up the Rear

The asterisk in the Connecticut Senate race.

Sep 18, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 01 • By WHITNEY BLAKE
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LIEBERMAN VS. LAMONT is the Senate race the whole country is watching. But seldom mentioned amid all the chatter about the two Democrats--the incumbent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, running as an Independent, and Ned Lamont, who defeated him in the primary--is the fact that it is actually a three-way race. The forgotten candidate, Republican Alan Schlesinger, polls in single digits and has consistently rated as an afterthought, save for a short time in July when a flap over gambling debts and card counting put him in the limelight.

Schlesinger's meager poll numbers are due in large part to Republicans' abandonment of their party's nominee in favor of the hawkish Lieberman. The White House, deferring to the state party, has declined to endorse Schlesinger, as has the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp is planning to speak at campaign stops and fundraisers for Lieberman, and Connecticut representative Chris Shays, a Republican, announced his vote for Lieberman. While some town committees have endorsed Schlesinger, others are standoffish, with a few actually endorsing Lieberman. One town, Killingworth, gave Schlesinger the nod, then withdrew its endorsement.

This phenomenon is all but unprecedented in recent history. Larry Sabato, a leading authority on national politics at the University of Virginia, describes Schlesinger's predicament as "truly extraordinary." Explains Sabato, "The root cause is that the GOP is grateful to Lieberman for his support of Bush on Iraq." Add to that Republicans' strong distaste for Lamont, and, says Sabato, "Schlesinger has no chance."

Schlesinger himself dismisses reports of tepid support among Connecticut Republicans; he cites a letter released by state chair George Gallo urging Republicans to back him. As for the national Republican party and the White House, they have a "different agenda," according to Schlesinger, with the main goal of "being vindicated on Iraq" by a Lieberman victory. He criticizes the White House for embracing a "Ted Kennedy-type Democrat" who is moving toward the "Kerry position" on Iraq. Schlesinger recalls recent remarks by Lieberman touting his Democratic voting record. Sabato has a similar assessment: Apart from the Iraq issue, "Lieberman is really a traditional liberal Democrat."

Schlesinger says the mainstream media are "rooting for Lamont," and he accuses the White House and Republican party chair Ken Mehl man of rooting for Lieberman. They have "tried to hijack the election and turn it into a Democratic primary," he says, meaning a fight over whether "the liberal left has taken over the Democratic party."

On top of Lieberman's dividing the Republican base, Schlesinger has been faced with media scrutiny of his past gambling, which Schlesinger considers irrelevant to his campaign. In July, the Hartford Courant reported that Schlesinger had used an alias while gambling at Foxwoods casino in the early 1990s, when he was a state assemblyman, then the mayor of Derby; that he enhanced his blackjack game with card counting (which is legal, but often banned by casinos); and that he paid more than $28,000, including interest, to settle two lawsuits brought by casinos, a figure Schlesinger disputes.

Schlesinger takes strong exception to the introduction of this old news into the campaign. At the mere mention of the word "scandal" in our interview, he became irate and defensive. Card counting, he said, "should be applauded." To ban it is like prohibiting Tiger Woods from playing golf. The fact that all of this occurred almost 15 years ago, he insisted, shows that he's "probably one of the cleanest politicians around."

Schlesinger feels he's "being singled out for a legal activity that brings money to support Connecticut" and that the state "encourages" through advertisements. To underscore the double standard, he brought up allegations against his opponents--that Lamont's wife had been "involved in stock-dumping fraud" and that Lieberman "had a lot of problems with tenants" and substandard maintenance of apartment units he rented.

Schlesinger then proceeded to instruct me as to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's proper role in his campaign: "I'm surprised that you're asking me about this. I was hoping your paper would say there's one conservative in this race, and here's what he stands for. I talked to you because you're supposed to do something positive."