Joe Lieberman Announces the End of His Complex Political Career

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Sen. Joseph 'Joe' Lieberman will not seek re-election. His retirement makes life easier for Democrats, who now have a better chance of hanging onto his seat.

The decision by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut not to run for reelection in 2012 marks the beginning of the end of a storied political career.

After all, how many politicians were their party's vice- presidential nominee, and then made the short list for the opposing party's vice-presidential selection just eight years later?

That, in a nutshell, captures the complexity of four-term Senator Lieberman, who spent most of his career as a centrist Democrat, then in recent years grew alienated from his party. He ended up in the political netherworld of an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, but only votes with them on some issues. He is a fierce defender of the US wars abroad, and last month, just as fiercely led the charge to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy that barred gays from open military service.

In his retirement announcement, delivered Wednesday in a hotel room in his birthplace of Stamford, Conn., Lieberman said his reason is "best expressed in the wise words from Ecclesiastes: 'To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.'"

He acknowledged that he hasn't always fit into "conventional political boxes," but said that wasn't the most important aspect of public service.

"I have always thought that my first responsibility is not to serve a political party but to serve my constituents, my state, and my country, and then to work across party lines to make sure good things get done for them," Lieberman said. "Whatever the partisan or policy differences that divide us, they are much less important than the shared values and dreams that unite us and that require us to work together to make progress for all. To me, that is what public service and leadership is all about."

By opting out of a reelection bid, Lieberman makes life easier for the Democrats. Had he run again, it probably would have been as an independent. But with, in effect, two Democrats (Lieberman and the Democratic nominee) running in a three-way race, the Republicans could have won with a plurality. In a two-way race, the Democratic nominee will enjoy an edge in liberal-leaning Connecticut.

In his last election, in 2006, Lieberman's strong support for the Iraq War cost him the Democratic nomination, won by anti-war businessman Ned Lamont. The Republicans fielded a weak candidate, Alan Schlesinger, allowing Lieberman to build a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and independents that propelled him to victory.

But Lieberman would never be the same. Just six years earlier, he was Al Gore's running mate on the 2000 Democratic ticket. In 2004, Lieberman ran for president himself, but by then, his centrist politics - especially his support for the Iraq War - didn't fit the Democratic electorate, and his candidacy didn't go far.

"He was always very much a social liberal," says Peter Fenn, a Democratic strategist, noting Lieberman's civil rights activism in the 1960s. "And he was not a hard cold-warrior who didn't want to see negotiations on arms control with the Russians. Iraq was for him a huge turning point."

Lieberman's 2006 loss to Mr. Lamont affected him deeply, as he saw the Democratic Party abandon him and support its nominee. …