Comeback Kid?

Correspondent Byron Pitts is in Connecticut this Election Day, following the fortunes of Joe Lieberman. He filed this update a short time ago. – Ed.
Three months ago, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman couldn't catch a cold. Tonight he's on the brink of winning his 4th term in office (if the polls are true). How'd that happen?

Let's go back to the beginning. In the August primary, Senator Lieberman was beaten by Democrat Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman with a message that resonated with Connecticut Democrats. Lamont was against the war. Senator Lieberman was for it. So in the primary Lieberman was punished for his support for the war and, by association, his support for President Bush. But most of us failed to notice something important: the early polls before the primary had Lamont with a big lead... double digits in some places. After primary night, Lieberman had closed the gap. Not enough to win, but he was closing. That said something most of us missed. More on that in a moment.

Lamont's in. Lieberman's out. All of the Democratic Party Heavy weights (Sen. Hillary Clinton, her husband, Sen. John Kerry, etc) dropped Lieberman like a bad habit. It made sense at the time. The people of Connecticut had spoken. Democrats were passionately against the war. So Lamont was their man. Money and celebrities poured in from around the country. Lamont had found the secret formula to bring Democrats back to power (maybe).

But something happened on the way to the victory dance. As Democrats (and many in the press) were writing Lieberman's obit, Republicans were sending him love letters (not really, but you get my point) and cash. Lamont thought he'd earned the right to relax for a few days, savor his victory and prepare for the November slaughter. Lieberman swallowed his pride and got to work.

Lieberman didn't quite remake himself, but he did finally speak up for himself. I'm the guy with experience. I've done good by you. Maybe I made a mistake. Forgive me. How many men have made the same argument and their wives let them come back home? (Another topic for another day. Let's move on.) Lieberman also went after Lamont, painted him as a one issue candidate. It seemed like a boring strategy to those who engage in drive-by politics. But on the ground, in fire stations, churches, senior citizen centers, that 'boring' message resonated.

It sort of reminded me of those old Howard Dean campaign stickers (remember him?). "Dated Dean. Married Kerry." That's how things appear to be shaping up in Connecticut. Lamont the angry and energetic candidate. The guy you talk to your friends about when you're talking passionately about politics. But when you're home with your spouse and looking at jobs, how you'll educate your children, maybe how your cousin's kid went into one of the Academy's... old man Lieberman, the guy with the experience, the contacts and new found humility... suddenly looked pretty good.

So if Senator Lieberman wins tonight, he goes back to Washington as a real power broker. Democrats will have to kiss his.... ring. And Republicans will show up with a pocket full of IOU's.

With a smile, Senator Lieberman told me he's "A democrat in my (his) heart." So he'll caucus with Democrats. History will tell us how Senator Lieberman uses this new found clout. IF he wins. For now that's IF in all caps.

Tonight is a political junkie's dream. For the rest of us... it's worth staying up late with a bucket of popcorn. This is what makes America America. We get to choose.