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Gary Younge
A symbolic scalp

There will be many outlandish claims made regarding Ned Lamont's narrow victory against Joseph Lieberman over the next few weeks. Key among them will be that this was a substantial win for the left. The right will push this to suggest that the Democratic party has now been taken over by an extremist rump in the tradition of McGovern.

The trouble with this claim is that according to every national poll Lamont's views on Iraq echo the view of mainstream America. By a narrow majority most Americans think the war was a bad idea, want the troops out either now or soon, and believe Bush has handled the whole affair badly. Lamont is not radical. He is moderate.

The left will push it to suggest that the anti-war message has finally found an electoral audience which can now only grow. The trouble with this claim is that the slender nature of Lamont's victory makes it unlikely that it could be replicated anywhere else anytime soon. It is not in every state that you get a millionaire candidate with progressive politics - and without a chequered past - standing against someone as blatantly rightwing as Lieberman. Lieberman's defeat is a symbolic scalp. It shows potential, but it is not yet pivotal.

That should not detract one iota from the joy of the victory. Lieberman is the fourth senator to be ousted in a primary in over two decades. Lamont came from nowhere, and there was a movement of likeminded people there to support him. This was a major achievement that will give great hope for huge numbers of people around the country who have been shouting themselves hoarse and still feel voiceless in their legislatures.

It is too early to speculate on how Lieberman will fare as an independent. Three months ago no-one would have predicted this; who knows what the situation will be like in three months time? Having backed him so heavily until this point, it will be interesting to see how the Democratic establishment respond in the coming days.

In the meantime the Republicans have much to fear. Lamont's win is a vote against the war. Their war. Independents are increasingly leaning against it too. With the economy stalling, the war is the only thing they have. Yet, according to a Washington Post poll earlier this week, 38% of voters say they are more likely to oppose candidates who support Bush on Iraq, compared with 23% who are more likely to support them.

Moreover, the vote against Lieberman - most of those who voted for Lamont were in fact voting against Lieberman - reflects an anti-incumbent mood that will hurt the GOP most.

According to the same poll, 53% of Americans now call themselves anti-incumbent, while 29% describe themselves as inclined to reelect lawmakers - almost precisely the same percentages as in June 1994.

Sadly, what is bad for the Republicans has yet to translate in something good for the Democrats. Just 48% say Democrats offer a clear direction different from Republicans, while 47% say they do not. The public does not think that Bush or the Democrats have a clear plan for Iraq. Even a slight majority of Democrats say their party does not have an Iraq strategy.

Yesterday a slight majority of Democrats in Connecticut settled on a candidate because he had a strategy. We know the party establishment, which backed Lieberman, saw. We must now wait and see if they can learn.

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