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Joe Lieberman announces the end of his complex political career

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.

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“He was really angry when he had to defend himself against someone he didn’t feel was a serious candidate,” says Mr. Fenn. “It hurt him personally, then he took that out on the party, and on others, and of course when he was reelected it emboldened him a bit.”

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Lieberman’s close friendship with Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, another strong defender of President Bush’s Iraq policy, added further strain to his relationship with the Democratic Party – especially when Senator McCain won the Republican nomination for president in 2008. In a way, Lieberman sealed his political fate when he endorsed McCain against Barack Obama, campaigned for McCain, and addressed the Republican convention that summer.

By many accounts, McCain wanted to make Lieberman his running mate, but was talked out of it by allies who felt Lieberman’s liberal social views would alienate conservatives. McCain went on to select then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Lieberman has described life as a political independent as liberating – and even helped convince former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist that leaving the Republican Party and running for the Senate as an independent was the way to go when it became clear Mr. Crist was going to lose in the GOP primary. “He was right,” Crist said last May. “I'm much happier now, to be perfectly candid."

For the past four years, Lieberman has counted as a Democrat for the purposes of committee assignments and leadership votes, but often left the Democrats guessing how he would vote. The possibility that Lieberman might become a Republican was never far from Democrats’ minds, but on domestic policy, in particular, Lieberman was often a reliable Democratic vote. On health care reform, he adamantly opposed the government-run health insurance proposal called the public option, but after that idea fell away, Lieberman was a loyal supporter of reform.

Ultimately, though, Lieberman’s inconsistent voting record on matters important to mainstream Democrats, plus his endorsement of McCain, would have made it extremely difficult for him to win a Democratic primary in Connecticut next year. There were even suggestions that Lieberman might consider running for reelection as a Republican, though people close to him say that was never an option.

For his final two years in office, Lieberman said, “I will keep doing everything I can to keep our economy growing and get our national debt under control, to combat climate change, to end our dependency on foreign oil, and to reform our immigration laws.”

Once out of office, Lieberman says he intends to remain active in public service. As an observant Orthodox Jew and strong supporter of Israel, Lieberman may opt to remain active in Middle East policy.

Before his announcement, the race for his seat was already in gear. On Tuesday, former Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz (D) announced her candidacy. Two Democrats in Connecticut’s congressional delegation, Reps. Christopher Murphy and Joseph Courtney, are also reportedly considering running.

On the Republican side, former TV wrestling executive Linda McMahon has suggested a possible run, after losing last November to now-Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D). Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) also reportedly may run.

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