FARMINGTON, Conn._ Two things happen to people as soon as they become United States senators.
First, they start referring to each of their new colleagues as "my dear friend."
Second, they start dreaming that they should be president.
Now, a Senate campaign in Connecticut is testing whether those two values—friendship and ambition—can coexist in politics.
The man at the center of it, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., is in trouble with his party after 34 years in public office, including 18 years in the Senate, a national campaign as his party's vice presidential nominee and his own 2004 bid for the presidential nomination.
Lieberman's unwavering support for the war in Iraq has angered antiwar Democrats and fueled a surprisingly strong primary challenge from millionaire Ned Lamont. The primary is Aug. 8.
While the country watches to see how important the war is to Connecticut Democrats, one underlying clash is over which other leading Democrats support or don't support their "good friend."
Lieberman embodied loyalty to Al Gore, after Gore, the 2000 Democratic presidential nominee, elevated him to the national stage by choosing him as his running mate. Gearing up for 2004, Lieberman wanted to run for the top job himself. But he said he'd run only if Gore didn't. When Gore decided not to run, Lieberman did, only to lose.
Now in trouble for renomination, Lieberman has been looking for help from friends, particularly those he's known in the Senate.
He's getting none from Gore.
Gore says he doesn't get involved in primaries.
Problem is, Gore jumped into the last big primary fight that Lieberman was in, the clash for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. But Gore endorsed Howard Dean, and he did it without first calling his old running mate to tell him what was coming.
"I don't have anything to say about Al Gore's sense of loyalty," Lieberman said at the time. "I have no regrets about the loyalty that I had to him."
Then and now, Gore agreed with Lieberman on most issues, including the environment, which has become Gore's crusade. They disagree about the war. Perhaps Lieberman has become an inconvenient Democrat to Gore, who'd need antiwar activists if he decided to seek the presidency again.
Lieberman also isn't getting any help from fellow senator and 2004 presidential nominee John Kerry, D-Mass. Kerry wants to run for president again in 2008. He, too, would need antiwar activists on his side, and he's pushing for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Kerry's aides also say he tries not to get involved in primaries.
Trouble is, Kerry jumped feet first into a closely contested Democratic Senate primary weeks ago in Virginia. He backed James Webb, a fellow Vietnam veteran who opposes the Iraq war. Webb won, and prominently featured pictures of Kerry in his primary night celebration.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the party's 2004 vice presidential nominee, also declines to get involved with Lieberman. He, too, wants to run again. He now considers the Iraq war a mistake, although, like Kerry, he voted to authorize it.
Still, some potential presidential candidates have endorsed Lieberman, including Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton—sort of.
She says she hopes Lieberman wins his primary, but if he doesn't, she'll support the Democratic nominee in the fall, not Lieberman, even though he's vowed to run as an independent if he loses his primary. Sen. Clinton has been Lieberman's friend for more than 30 years, but with 2008 approaching, party loyalty comes before friendship.
Other senators support him, too, even some who vehemently oppose the war. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., for example, endorsed Lieberman, noting his devotion to the environment and abortion rights. She's getting ripped by antiwar Democrats for it, but then she's not thought to be weighing a 2008 presidential bid and she doesn't face re-election until 2010.
Pausing outside a Connecticut diner the other day, Lieberman refused to criticize the men with whom he shared some of the rarest bonds in politics yet who refuse to stand with him in his hour of political peril.
Of Gore, he said with a smile, "he said some nice things about me and my wife."
Of Kerry, he said, "Kerry and I go back a long way. But we're headed in different directions."