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Lieberman campaign files forms to run as petitioning candidate

HARTFORD, Conn. --Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman filed paperwork Monday that will allow him to collect signatures to petition his way onto the November ballot if he loses an August primary.

Lieberman's campaign announced the move in an e-mail to reporters.

The three-term senator faces a tough Aug. 8 primary challenge from Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont. Lieberman, who has been criticized by fellow Democrats for his support of the war in Iraq and a perceived closeness with President Bush, is popular among many unaffiliated and Republican voters in Connecticut.

Lieberman also filed papers with the secretary of the state's office Monday to create a new party called Connecticut for Lieberman.

Marion Steinfels, Lieberman's campaign spokeswoman, said the 25 people who signed on to help Lieberman form the Connecticut for Lieberman party will oversee the petition drive.

"This group of people that formed this committee will be the ones handling this," she said. "The volunteers who are working for the campaign are continuing to work on the Aug. 8 primary. This will not in any way detract from winning that."

The list includes many Democratic activists from across the state.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said Lieberman will be able to secure a higher position on the November ballot by creating a new party rather than petitioning his way on as an individual. Bysiewicz said Lieberman would be fifth on the ballot under the new party, compared with eighth or ninth as an individual.

He must collect 7,500 signatures by 4 p.m. Aug. 9, the day after the primary.

"It is certainly a very doable thing, but it will require some on-the-ground volunteer efforts," Bysiewicz said.

Tom Swan, Lamont's campaign manager, criticized Lieberman for taking out the petitions. Lamont has said an independent run by Lieberman will hurt Democrats.

"Sen. Lieberman clearly understands that Ned Lamont's campaign continues to gather momentum," Swan said. "He does this from a position of weakness, where he looks like a desperate career politician attempting to cling to power."

Lieberman announced last week that he would begin collecting signatures to petition his way onto the ballot.

He said he is concerned about the predicted low voter turnout for the August primary and the fact Lamont is a multimillionaire who has dumped more than $2 million of his own money into the race so far. Lieberman himself amassed $6 million for the race as of May; new fundraising figures are due out this week.

"While I believe that I will win the Aug. 8 primary, I know there are no guarantees in elections," Lieberman said during a news conference in front of the state Capitol. Lieberman said he will remain a Democrat and plans to remain a part of the Senate Democratic caucus if re-elected.

His decision to potentially run as an independent candidate has put some well-known Democrats in a politically difficult position. While they are backing Lieberman in the primary, some have said both privately and publicly that they won't support his possible independent run should he lose in August.

Some national Democrats also fear that a Lieberman primary loss could distract from their efforts to win seats in states such as Pennsylvania, Montana, Missouri and Tennessee.

But U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from Georgia, said Lieberman has his support no matter what happens in the primary. Lewis was in Hartford Monday with Lieberman and U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., discussing faith-based initiatives to fight youth violence.

"I stick with my friends," Lewis said. "He's going to win. You heard it from John Lewis. He's going to win."

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AP Political Writer Susan Haigh has been covering the Connecticut statehouse and political scene since 1994.

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