Lamont not looking for a rematch with Lieberman in 2012

After two unsuccessful statewide campaigns in four years, Ned Lamont says he is strongly disinclined to make another run at Joe Lieberman in the 2012 race for U.S. Senate.

Lamont, 56, who ran for Senate in 2006 and governor in 2010, said other potential Democratic candidates have called to gauge his interest in a rematch with Lieberman.

“I say, ‘Well, go for it,’ ” Lamont said Tuesday. “I’ve been through the meat grinder with my family.”

Lamont was a political outsider who became a hero of the political left and the emerging Netroots in 2006 by opposing Lieberman over the war in Iraq, a fight no other politician would take on.

“Four years ago, I couldn’t get anybody to challenge Joe Lieberman. It looked like an impossible race,” Lamont said. “Four years later, there’s going to be a number of good folks ready to make the challenge.”

Lamont made it easier for other Democrats to take on Lieberman in 2012 by winning the Democratic primary in 2006. Lieberman stayed in the race and won as an independent, but he will have a tougher time winning a three-way race again if there is a strong Republican in the field.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-5th District, and Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz are the two Democrats known to be seriously weighing a campaign, while Ted Kennedy Jr. has publicly waved off speculation he might run.

“It’s definitely something I’m thinking about,” Murphy said Tuesday. “Right now, my focus is just on spending the holidays with my family and saying thank you to my supporters who helped me win a third term.”

The absence of Lamont removes one major worry for potential Democratic contenders: competition from a wealthy candidate who spent $17 million of his own money in the 2006 and $9 million seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

But Republican Linda McMahon, who spent $50 million on her unsuccessful, self-funded Senate race this year, has said she may run again in two years, once again making money a major consideration for potential candidates.

“That’s nothing to sneeze at,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District, who has not ruled out running for the Senate.

The timetable for making a decision is tight: Democrats say they expect one or more candidates to declare soon after the first of the year to begin raising money and lining up support.

Lamont declined to identify the Democrats who called him to indicate they might run, but he said he was confident that there would be a strong field, despite the threat of facing McMahon’s money.

With a stronger voter turnout, presidential election years generally are easier for the dominant Democratic Party in Connecticut.

“This is an opportunity,” Lamont said. “For the political classes, these opportunities don’t come that often. When you see the door ajar, knock on it.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, the Democrat who did not seek re-election this year, held his seat for 30 years. Lieberman will have held his seat for 24 years at the end of his current term.

Bysiewicz has nothing to lose, though her fortunes have dimmed considerably in the past year.

She began 2010 as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for governor. Then Dodd announced his retirement, prompting Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to seek the seat.

Bysiewicz quickly switched to the race for attorney general, but she refused to rule out opposing Lieberman in 2012, even as she sought support for A.G.

A court ruling that she lacked the minimum legal experience to hold the office forced her from the race for attorney general shortly before the Democratic nomination convention.

Murphy and Courtney, who won their congressional seats in 2006, have more to risk. If one or both declared as Senate candidates, other Democrats would quickly declare for their seats.

“It’s clear this is a life decision, because there is no turning back,” Courtney said.