``He knew the issues that would help to elevate himself politically,'' including the environment and women's issues, said Fauliso, the former lieutenant governor. ``He was one who was very much interested in polls.''
Fauliso said Lieberman's gentle demeanor, as much as his political astuteness, led to his rapid rise to the post of majority leader. ``He was a listener,'' Fauliso said.
Lieberman's string of successes snapped in 1980, when he lost a bid for a congressional seat. It was a stunning setback for those who knew how carefully the tentative Lieberman weighed every move. Just two years before, he had gained enough Democratic convention support to force a primary for lieutenant governor against then-Democratic House Majority Leader William A. O'Neill -- but chose to pass.
Schwartz said that while Lieberman talked of wanting to follow Ella Grasso as governor, he settled instead on the congressional seat, which had opened up unexpectedly. With uncharacteristic boldness, he announced his candidacy before examining the district -- a region that was leaning to the right, and one in which Lieberman had little name recognition outside New Haven.
Republican Lawrence J. DeNardis blitzed Lieberman with a series of TV ads that portrayed him as a high-taxing, big-spending liberal. Lieberman, taking his consultants' advice, didn't fight back; he was buried.
He was devastated by the defeat, which coincided with his divorce from his first wife. But soon Lieberman, saying he was tired of people treating him as if he were dead, set about making his own miracle.
A year after his defeat, he surprised the state political world by announcing he was going to run for attorney general, even if the Democratic incumbent decided to run again. It was 11 months before the next election, and the attorney general was ``kind of a sleepy position,'' recalled Republican lobbyist Jay Malcynsky.
``Not many people saw that office as a political springboard,'' said Roger Dove, a Democratic lobbyist in the 1980s. ``But Joe did, and it resurrected his career.''
During his six-year tenure as attorney general, a renewed, tough-guy Lieberman vaulted the office -- and himself -- into the headlines. When Texaco and Getty announced a merger of their oil companies, Connecticut was one of the first states to file a lawsuit against the Federal Trade Commission, demanding access to documents about the merger. Under Lieberman, the office also took on some of the big supermarket chains for price-fixing -- an action that brought in millions of dollars in settlements for consumers.
``Joe raised the profile of the office -- and at the same time the profile of Joe Lieberman,'' Malcynski said.
It was the old Talmud adage: For himself, but never for himself alone.
Winds of Change
By the late 1980s, Lieberman was ready for a change. O'Neill had succeeded Grasso after illness forced her to resign, leaving no opening there. Lieberman took aim at Republican U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker.
Weicker's maverick reputation, starting with his early calls for Richard Nixon's impeachment, had made him a legendary figure in and outside of Connecticut. Challenging him was seen as a long shot. But by running just to Weicker's right and portraying him in ads as a slow-footed, out-of-touch bear, Lieberman toppled the giant.
In the Senate, Lieberman has driven to the outposts of his party, but he has never left town. From the start, he reached out to his Republican counterparts in ways that surprised them. Witness January 1989, just two weeks after he was sworn in: President-elect George Bush was being inaugurated, and with the Democrats controlling Congress, Washington was prepared for some serious partisan strife.
On Bush's inaugural day, Lieberman did the politically unthinkable. He went to the Connecticut Republicans' reception. And they loved him.
It was brash, but it was telling: Lieberman saw advantages to bipartisanship that sometimes eluded his colleagues. To cement relationships with the Connecticut House delegation, he invited each member, including Republicans, to lunch in the Senate Dining Room -- something rarely done for members of the opposing party.
His biggest coup was with Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, R-6th District. She had already been in Congress six years and had won a national reputation as a voice for abortion rights -- but she had never been in the Senate dining room. ``I knew that day Nancy Johnson would not run against Joe Lieberman,'' former Lieberman aide Michael Lewan said.
Bipartisanship notwithstanding, Lieberman remained a reliable vote for the Democratic leadership on most matters. But he began carving out a niche in the middle on others, including Social Security and school vouchers. He has been a consistent supporter of abortion rights, environmental protection and other causes espoused by party liberals. Still, in 1991, he broke ranks with his party when he became one of 10 Democrats to vote to authorize troops for the Gulf War in January 1991.
His political persona was not always polished. At times, he came across as a waffler who wanted it both ways. In October 1991, he announced that he would support the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, despite the fact that some of Thomas' views seemed antithetical to Lieberman's own. But days later, when the charges of sexual harassment exploded, he was suddenly undecided, and his public ruminations about the bind he was in were drawing national media attention. Eventually, he voted no -- when it was clear his yes vote was not needed.
Similarly, in 1993, when the Senate would take the biggest vote yet of the Clinton presidency -- a $496 billion package of spending cuts and tax increases -- there was Lieberman again, just days before the vote, with very public misgivings. He got lots of national attention as he tried to decide what to do.
Lieberman's staff quietly advised him the act was wearing. The Courant was calling him "Hamlet on the Potomac." Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., warned his colleague, "There is political risk if you look tormented. You cannot make yourself the issue." And so Lieberman voted with Clinton, eventually -- just as he would later vote against impeaching the president, even after his famous speech. His public hand-wringing had earned him the moniker of conscience of the Senate.
In 12 years, Lieberman developed a practical politics that sometimes straddled party lines. Was he a liberal, scrambling to the right when he felt the sands of the mainstream shift that way, or an independent thinker, driven by a heightened sense of morality? In short: Was it ego or duty that created the Lieberman of today?
``I've tried to be open to new ideas,'' Lieberman said of his political evolution Friday. ``You make progress by adopting new ideas. They can change history.''
This story was reported by Courant Staff Writers David Lightman, Lisa Chedekel, Mike McIntire, Tom Puleo, Janice D'Arcy, Jon Lender and Dave Altimari. It was written by Chedekel.
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