Connecticut to choose between liberal Democrat, liberal Republican

Connecticut conservatives have little to cheer about these days.

Their hopes of ridding the US Senate of Lowell P. Weicker Jr., its most liberal Republican, may yet succeed - but perhaps not in the way intended.

US Rep. Toby Moffett - the GOP's prime Democratic gadfly in a political contest that is too close to call - is anything but a conservative.

The extent to which this works to Mr. Weicker's advantage may hinge on voter attitudes toward President Reagan. Although the third-term-bent senator and Mr. Reagan are not close either personally or philosophically, Weicker has supported the White House on most key issues, including the 1981 tax-cut legislation and budget.

While the senator's campaign strategy is to hold the political center stage, Mr. Moffett calls him too conservative, and Conservative Party candidate Lucian DiFazio attacks him as too liberal.

While there is nothing to suggest that Mr. DiFazio will make a strong bid for the Senate seat, his candidacy could take votes that might otherwise go Senator Weicker, who earlier was targeted for defeat by the National Conservative Political Action Committee.

That group, which in 1980 helped finance the defeat of four liberal Democratic senators (Birch Bayh of Indiana, Frank Church of Idaho, John Culver of Iowa, and George McGovern of South Dakota), earlier this year backed the candidacy of conservative Republican Prescott Bush Jr. against Weicker.

The brother of Vice-President George Bush, Mr. Bush lost the state GOP convention to Weicker in July, and could have forced a September primary showdown for the Republican nomination, but in the interest of party harmony ended his candidacy. His support for Weicker, however, is little more than lukewarm. He has not campaigned for the senator, nor is he expected to do so.

In party enrollment, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 667,265 to 451, 412. From a purely partisan standpoint this appears to favor Moffett, a four-term congressman from the state's Seventh District.

The balance of political power, however, could be with the 586,660 independents, where there has been considerable Weicker strength in his past two senatorial elections.

A University of Connecticut statewide poll found the candidates running neck and neck. The latest New York Times poll, however, shows Moffett ahead 43 to 38 percent.

With the campaign slogan ''Weicker: Nobody's Man But Yours,'' the senator is capitalizing on his loner image. Moffett holds that his opponent's maverick stance has made him ineffective, with little new legislation to his credit during his 14 years as a federal lawmaker, the last dozen in the Senate.

The senator and his aides contend, however, that he has accomplished a great deal, citing his successful opposition to conservative social and civil-rights legislation such as the measure to bar federal courts from ordering school busing.

With a near-solid voting record in support of organized labor, Moffett aggressively pursued the backing of union leaders. Such efforts, however, have brought some disappointments, including his failure to win the official backing of the AFL-CIO's Connecticut State Labor Council.

One source of Moffett's political strength is environmental and consumer groups with whom he has maintained close ties since his first congressional campaign in 1974.

On the other hand, Senator Weicker has support not only among organized labor but in business circles as well. Despite his liberal leanings and his support of a nuclear weapons freeze, Weicker voted for the huge 1982 defense spending package.

On the question of energy controls, the two candidates also disagree sharply. Weicker supports oil and natural gas deregulation; Moffett favors controls.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut's gubernatorial race, soundings indicate Democratic Gov. William A. O'Neill has a fairly wide lead over his lesser known Republican challenger, former state senator Lewis Rome.

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