(CNN) – Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in 2006 but won the November election anyway by forming a third party and siphoning votes from Republicans who didn’t want progressive Democratic candidate Ned Lamont to take his seat in Washington.
But once Lieberman had secured his re-election, he abandoned the Connecticut for Lieberman party – and now that party may be used to target the state’s other senator, Democrat Chris Dodd, who is already facing stiff competition from the Republicans for his 2010 re-election bid.
At issue is a battle over the leadership of the party and its 105 members between an anti-Lieberman (and Dodd) engineering professor and the pro-Lieberman founders of the party who say they have not abandoned it.
“There has been an unbroken chain in the control of the party by the people who are in support of Senator Lieberman,” said Stuart R. Korchin, chairman of Connecticut for Lieberman and the first person to register the party in 2006.
But Lieberman and his supporters failed to file what’s called “party rules” with the Connecticut secretary of state’s office, department spokesman Av Harris said, leaving the door open for someone else to do so. Fairfield University professor John Orman, who opposed Lieberman, was the first to file party rules, and soon after Lieberman’s suppporters followed suit.
But Orman died not long after filing the rules, and, said Trinity College engineering professor John Mertens, signed over leadership of the party to him before he passed away.
Critics accuse Mertens of hijacking the party for selfish reasons, and some – even those who had envisioned transforming the party into an anti-Lieberman vehicle – are angry that Mertins is trying to use the party against Dodd. Former state legislator Jonathan Pelto is in the “Mertens is selfish” camp.
“Mertens has corrupted the spirit of the law and is conducting himself in a way in which he and he alone is the beneficiary,” he said.
But Mertens, whose platform includes the expanding debt and social issues, said his idea was “about solving problems” and not about himself or Dodd.
“We have had insane government policy when it comes to social issues,” he said. “Our drug law policies are largely responsible for the violence in our inner cities.”
Mertens told he’s frustrated over the two-party system that dominates American politics.
“Career politicians care more about getting re-elected,” he said. “They are very short-sighted.”
Dodd’s campaign, backed by the Connecticut Democratic Party, is not concerned with Mertens’ potential candidacy.
Dodd is “focused on the work he has to do in the Senate, advocating on behalf of consumers and increasing affordability and access to healthcare,” state party spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said.
Lieberman’s offfice, with the senator safely in office for another three years, had no comment.
Mertens said he doesn’t think Connecticut voters will have a hard time deciding what kind of candidate he is should he run under the Connecticut for Leiberman banner.
“Anyone who has been paying attention at all should know the Connecticut for Lieberman Party is no longer a pro Lieberman party,” he said.
But Korchin, who said he had spoken with Mertens and “it did not go well,” said that the professor has “no legal basis to claim any leadership” and that it’s “unlikely the party will nominate Mertens for Senate.”
In fact, Korchin said, he is considering putting Dodd’s name in nomination.
Meanwhile, neither side has taken the issue of who controls the party to court.