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On Tuesday, Joe Lieberman's future may also be on the line

November 2, 2008 |  2:50 pm

It's not just battleground states and electoral votes that are being fought over in Tuesday's election.

Consider the political future of one senator -- Joe LiebeSen. Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, campaigned last month with GOP vice presidential nominee and alaska Governor Sarah Palin.rman of Connecticut -- who's not even on the ballot this year.

Lieberman was a longtime Democrat who in 2006 lost his party's primary (largely over his support for the Iraq war) but won re-election to his fourth Senate term as an Independent.

Because he and the Senate's other Independent, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, caucus with the Democrats, the party claims a razor-thin 51-49 majority -- keeping the Democrats in power and enabling Lieberman to hold on to his chairmanship of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

But the Democrats' nominee for vice president in 2000 is also one of John McCain's oldest friends, and he has been vocal in his support for the Republican White House candidate. That's not too surprising, given their close relationship and his strong backing for the Arizona senator's stance on the Iraq war.

More recently, though, Lieberman has also appeared with McCain's running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin: "She's so strong, she's....

...so capable, she's so competent," he told a GOP rally last month in Clearwater, Fla.

To the members of his former party, them's fightin' words. And the prospect of sizable Democratic gains in the Senate on Tuesday means that Lieberman will no longer be critical to maintaining the party's majority status.

As CNN correspondent John King put it on "Late Edition" today: "So, one of the questions after the election: Will Joe Lieberman stay blue with the Democratic caucus or might he flip over and go red with the Republican caucus? So as we track these 35 Senate races, we'll also be able to keep an eye on Joe Lieberman at the end of the night to see if he belongs in the red column or the blue column." (Here's an explanation of how Lieberman has been playing both sides during this campaign.)

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, was asked point blank if he wanted Lieberman in the Democratic caucus. "I want him to be a Democrat. You bet," Kerry replied.

Over on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who heads the Democrats' effort to increase their numbers in the Senate, was more evasive.

BOB SCHIEFFER (moderator): Well, then, let me ask you, Sen. Schumer, about Joe Lieberman, the Democrat who's been campaigning for John McCain. Should he leave the Democratic Party now, or should he still -- he still votes, in organizing the Senate, with the Democrats. What do you do with Joe Lieberman, one way or the other?

SCHUMER: Well, [Senate Majority] Leader [Harry] Reid, who's a good friend of Joe's, has said we're not going to debate that, discuss it until after Tuesday. And I'm sticking with Leader Reid on that one.

SCHIEFFER: So...

SCHUMER: So I'm waiting. We're going to wait until Wednesday to even discuss that, publicly or privately. There have been no discussions about it among our Senate leadership or in the caucus.

But Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was quick to weigh in when Schieffer asked him a similar question: "I will say that if Joe wants to leave the Democrat Party and join us, we'd welcome him with open arms."

-- Leslie Hoffecker

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Photo credit: Associated Press / Chris O'Meara

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