Menendez caught on Lieberman fence

Menendez caught on Lieberman fence
Friday, October 20, 2006 The Record

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez's official position on the Connecticut Senate race is complicated enough.

He supported his fellow Democratic senator, Joseph Lieberman, when the Connecticut incumbent was challenged by Ned Lamont in the state's Democratic primary this past summer. But in their second face-off -- Lamont being the Democratic nominee and Lieberman an independent on the general election ballot -- Menendez backs Lamont.

It got even more complicated Wednesday night in Livingston, where Menendez spoke at a forum organized by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey. Menendez left the distinct impression with that audience that he supports Lieberman, who is Jewish.

"I wish him well and hope he returns," Menendez was quoted as saying on The Empire Zone, a New York Times blog.

Menendez went so far as to warn his audience that Republican rival Tom Kean Jr., who was scheduled to address the same forum later, would accuse him of being a Lamont supporter. And that's exactly what Kean did: He endorsed Lieberman and added, "My opponent, by the way, supports Ned Lamont."

The catch is that Kean is right. Like several other Democratic senators, Menendez initially backed Lieberman but agreed to support the winner of the Democratic primary, which made him a Lamont supporter as of July.

So why did the audience at Temple Beth Shalom think Menendez had just endorsed Lieberman?

"What he meant by that is, if Lieberman is reelected, he looks forward to working with him," said Menendez spokesman Matt Miller.

And why did Menendez warn them that Kean was about to tell -- the truth?

"What he meant is, 'He's going to tell you I support Lamont, when in fact I supported Lieberman during the primary,' " Miller said.

One of the forum's panelists, who asked not to be named, said everyone present had the impression that Menendez was firmly behind Lieberman. The blog initially reported that Kean had fallen into a "Lieberman trap," apparently assuming that he had mischaracterized Menendez's position just as the Democrat had predicted.

The Lieberman campaign was just as confused as everyone else. Its "Blog of Joe" posted an item heralding Lieberman's bipartisan support, saying both New Jersey Senate candidates had endorsed the moderate Democrat. The blog subsequently amended "endorsed" to "expressed support for."

The incident prompted another rare round of bipartisan harmony: Both the Kean campaign and BlueJersey, a liberal blog, agreed that Menendez had been caught pandering.

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