Was John McCain the real winner last night?

Last night’s results from Connecticut leave Joe Lieberman very much alive as an independent candidate in November. Clearly, Lamont will substantially outspend him. And Lieberman cannot expect that 48 percent of those of who voted in the Democratic primary will vote for him in November, when Lamont will be the official Democratic candidate. However, with no chance of a Republican victory and no reason to expect the party establishment to provide full-throated support to Lamont, Lieberman should do reasonably well with those who voted for him yesterday. And poll results show that independent and Republican voters in Connecticut collectively hold the Senator in higher regard than the Democratic voters do. To be sure, Connecticut independents are more likely to agree with Lamont than with Lieberman on the major issue of the campaign — the war in Iraq. But last night proved that, even among many Democrats, support for the war is not a deal-breaker.

And that’s why the results are such good news for John McCain, who (for better or for worse) is probably the closest thing the Republicans have to a Lieberman. Polls show McCain leading Hillary Clinton even in New York. But how meaningful are these results? McCain is a strong supporter of a war that has become quite unpopular, and is likely to become more so over the next two years. Thus, McCain’s appeal to independents and to some Democrats — the appeal that enables him to run ahead of Clinton in some polls conducted in liberal states — may not withstand a tough race following two more years of (what may well be) difficult sledding in Iraq. But last night suggests that, at least at this juncture, many on the left side of the center will not reject a candidate they like and respect merely because he’s on the “wrong” side of the single issue of the war.

This analysis, of course, speaks only to McCain’s prospects in the general election. His prospects for obtaining the nomination, which are not unrelated to perceptions about how he will fare against the Democratic nominee, is a subject for another day.

UPDATE: Dick Morris and Eileen McGann like Liberman’s chances in November. However, they suggest that Al Gore may be another of last night’s winners. Via Real Clear Politics

FURTHER UPDATE: Austin Bay is calling for a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008. Both are outstanding men, but consider me not tempted.

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