Courtney says he'll consider making a run for Lieberman's Senate seat

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said he will decide early next year whether to mount a campaign for the Senate in 2012 - adding another name to the list of those who might seek to unseat Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

In a brief phone interview from his office in Washington, Courtney said only that he had been encouraged by numerous supporters to consider a Senate run after winning re-election last month. He said he would decide after the "smoke has cleared" from the current lame-duck congressional session whether to go forward with a Senate campaign.

"I certainly think it's worth taking a look at," Courtney said. "The 2nd District obviously has a history of being a credible platform for past occupants of the Senate."

Past 2nd District congressmen to ascend to the Senate include, most notably, Sen. Chris Dodd, who is retiring this year after a 36-year career that began with three terms representing eastern Connecticut in the House.

Courtney would not discuss potential rivals, but his potential interest in a Senate race sets up possible conflict with a number of other political figures and their supporters.

They include outgoing Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz and Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, both of whom have long been rumored to be considering a run for the Senate in 2012.

There's also the enigma of Lieberman, who remains a registered Democrat despite losing his party's nomination in 2006, and who has not said whether he will seek re-election to a new term.

Lieberman's frequent differences with his own party, including campaigning for Republican Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in his presidential contest, have led to speculation that he could be lured to switch parties, though state-level Republicans have been cool to that possibility.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Lieberman declined to respond to Courtney's comments.

"Senator Lieberman is focused on the heavy workload the Senate must get through before the end of the year, including efforts to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and pass a compromise on tax cuts," Lieberman press secretary Erika Masonhall said. "He plans to make a decision about his future plans within the next few months."

Courtney, meanwhile, has been among those Democrats most frustrated by the Senate's failure to take quick action on bills passed by the lower chamber. No surprise, then, that he said he would embrace proposals to reform Senate procedure, including the use of filibusters, if he decides to run.

"Frankly, it's a platform which I think all across the country will get very serious treatment by all candidates," Courtney said, "because I think there's a lot of concern that we've reached the point where these rules make the Senate ungovernable."

Handicapping of the 2012 race has been under way for months, particularly among Democrats, who denied Lieberman their nomination six years ago, in part over anger at his outspoken support for the war in Iraq and the military policies of then-President George W. Bush.

But the chance that Lieberman will seek to retain his seat - whether as a Democrat, a Republican, or by mounting another independent bid - is not likely to hold back any Democratic challengers, said Gary L. Rose, the chairman of the Department of Government and Politics at Sacred Heart University.

"I don't think it's going to affect in any way whatsoever the decisions of a Democrat," Rose said. "If he runs as a Democrat, he will likely be defeated in a Democratic primary, irrespective of who the candidate is, whether it's Joe Courtney, Chris Murphy or Susan Bysiewicz."

If Lieberman decides to mount an independent campaign, Democratic hopefuls, as well as potential Republican challengers such as 2010 Senate nominee Linda McMahon, would see the chance to win a three-way race by securing as little as 40 percent or less of the votes cast, Rose said.

"I think (Lieberman) might go the same route that he did the last time, his own little so-called party," Rose said. "I don't think there's a home for him in the Democratic Party, and I think McMahon is really breathing down his neck as a candidate with her millions of dollars, and a lot of Republicans in the state were impressed with her candidacy."

It is "very possible," Rose said, that Lieberman would attempt to win as he did in his 2006 defeat of Democrat Ned Lamont and largely written-off Republican Alan Schlesinger, by positioning himself as a centrist independent unafraid to buck the wishes of either party.

Bysiewicz, meanwhile, has absorbed a year's worth of rough media coverage over the past year, in which she left the governor's race to run for attorney general, was ruled ineligible for the office by the Connecticut Supreme Court, then was slammed for confusion and voting mishaps on Election Day.

But the ambitious secretary of the state should not be counted out, Rose said: "Things like this don't really stop people like her."

t.mann@theday.com

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