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Renegade Joe

June 21, 2007 |  7:22 pm

Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, especially anti-Iraq war activists, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut continues to chart his own course. And the path he's on, and the anger it sparks, were on vivid display Thursday night when he co-hosted a Washington fundraising dinner for ... a Republican.

Lieberman Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent, announced several weeks ago his endorsement of GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. She faces a potentially tough reelection battle and, with Democrats keen on expanding their razor-thin Senate majority, the race figures to be one of the most closely-watched in 2008.

So it was bad enough, for Democrats, that Lieberman would back Collins. But headlining her fundraiser was a proverbial poke in the eye.

MoveOn.org, the feisty online liberal acitvist group, responded with an e-mail, blasting Lieberman and soliciting donations for her expected Democratic opponent, Rep. Tom Allen.

Collins presents an inviting target to MoveOn and other staunch foes of the Bush administration's Iraq policy because polls have found the war especially unpopular in New England. True, Collins has been popular in the state. But Allen also is a heavy hitter politically --- he won re-election in November with about 63% of the vote.

Lieberman, to some degree, is simply returning a favor in supporting Collins. They've worked closely together as senators, particularly in probing the federal government's poor response to Hurricane Katrina. And Collins came to Lieberman's aid after he lost Connecticut's Democratic primary last year --- due to his support of the Iraq war --- and became an independent in his bid to retain his seat. In November, he defeated that anti-war candidate Democrats had picked, Ned LaMont.

Collins' decision to aid Lieberman in his campaign was easy; even the White House had no interest in helping the race's hapless GOP candidate. But with Senate control at stake in next year's vote, Lieberman's help for Collins is much more provocative to the party that once lionized him as its vice presidential nominee --- and with which he still caucuses in the Senate.

What Maine's famously contrary voters make of all this, of course, remains to be seen. There may not be a more politically peculiar state in the union right now.

Ross Perot won 30% of its vote in the 1992 presidential race --- his best showing anywhere. While electing Collins twice to the Senate and her fellow Republican, Olympia Snowe, three times, the state went Democratic in the 2000 and 2004 White House races. And three of its governors in recent times have been independents.

One thing about the state: in a country being transformed by demographic changes, Maine has remained virtually untouched. In 2004 estimates by the Census Bureau, Maine's non-Latino white population was 96.5% --- the nation's highest.

-- Don Frederick

Photo: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut; Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

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