Last week’s vote on a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq could have a big political impact on a pair of Jewish senators with political aspirations.
In the case of Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2000, those aspirations involve the White House.
Political observers say Lieberman’s role as the administration’s Democratic point man in the war-powers debate could boost his presidential campaign — or throw a monkey wrench into it.
“Lieberman has had a moderate, centrist image that has served him well in Washington,” said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “But his decision to back Bush on Iraq endangers him with the Democratic activists who vote heavily in the very first contest, in the Iowa caucus in January 2004.”
for the administration sets him apart from his partner in 2000 and potential rival in 2004, former Vice President Al Gore, who has emerged as a leading critic of administration Iraq policy.
“That will make it more difficult for the Gore/Lieberman ticket to re-emerge in ’04,” Sabato said. “At this point, it’s clear that Lieberman wants to run for president and is hoping that Gore will not or will falter.”
But Sabato said the big “x-factor” is what happens next, now that President Bush has congressional approval for military action. “If we go to war and the operation is successful, Lieberman looks good,” he said. “If we go to war and then inherit enormous problems in Iraq and the Mideast, then Gore looks good and Lieberman could suffer.”
Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone’s aspirations involve something more basic: simple political survival. The two-term incumbent is trying to fend off a strong challenge by former St. Paul mayor Norman Coleman, a Republican.
Last week Wellstone, the most liberal member of the Senate, was one of 23 senators voting against the war powers resolution. Quickly, Coleman — who is also Jewish — began criticizing Wellstone for that vote. But most analysts say Wellstone’s anti-war stance may rescue his foundering re-election bid.
An MSNBC-Zogby poll last week showed Wellstone with a comfortable lead — a dramatic reversal of findings a month earlier.
“It’s hard to say if his opposition [to the Iraq resolution] is what boosted him, but it could be one factor,” said Steven Silberfarb, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “This is a progressive state, and his position is popular.