Joe’s Dark Days

With the startling victory of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the Iowa caucuses and the dismal third-place finish of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, the Democratic presidential deck has been drastically reshuffled.

And the joker could go to Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who opted out of the Iowa race and now faces even tougher odds in next week’s New Hampshire primary.

But Lieberman is fighting back, and he’s getting some important help. This week he won the endorsement of New Hampshire’s biggest newspaper, the Union Leader — normally a stalwart supporter of the GOP cause.

But two factors are conspiring to complicate Lieberman’s uphill fight: the surge by retired Gen. Wesley Clark in New Hampshire, and the Iowa surprise — which resulted in a huge victory for Kerry and a surprisingly strong second-place finish for Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).

Dean finished third, with a devastating 18 percent of the caucus votes.

"A lot of Democrats have been looking for the anti-Dean," said a top Jewish Democrat this week. "Lieberman hoped to be that candidate, but now it looks like it will be a fight between Kerry and Clark. Things look very bad for Joe, although he keeps plugging."

University of Wisconsin political scientist Ken Goldstein predicted that the Lieberman campaign could come to a quick end, possibly right after New Hampshire — and that the cash-hungry Clark and Kerry campaigns will quickly move in on his Jewish financial backers. Clark, who skipped Iowa, has been gaining ground in New Hampshire, he said.

"And now Kerry and Edwards have huge momentum coming out Iowa," Goldstein said. "I just don’t see how Lieberman can continue unless he manages to really shock people in New Hampshire."