Photo courtesy of the House Republicans
State Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck (Photo courtesy of the House Republicans)

Fourteen years ago state Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, never could have predicted that he’d be listening to U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman during one of the Republican Party’s most sacred events—the presidential nominating convention.

Watching Lieberman’s speech from the floor of the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, Labriola, whose father, Jerry Labriola, opposed Lieberman in 1994 during his first Senate re-election campaign, thought “politics sure make strange bedfellows.”

Labriola said he thinks Lieberman did a good job at appealing to Democrats and Independents watching the convention and may be thinking about voting for Arizona Senator John McCain.

Labriola said he didn’t support the idea of Lieberman as McCain’s vice presidential candidate because he still has a very liberal voting record in the Senate. However, Labriola said having Lieberman out on the campaign trail for McCain to appeal to undecided voters “is a great thing.”

Lieberman at a crossroads

The decision to have Democrat-turned-Independent Senator Joseph I. Lieberman headline the Republican National Convention’s second night seemed to highlight his political migration. Just eight years ago, Lieberman stood before a cheering crowd at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles and accepted the vice presidential nomination as Al Gore’s running mate.

“What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this? The answer is simple. I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party,” Lieberman said. “I’m here because John McCain’s whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American.”

During his speech Tuesday to an all Republican audience Lieberman said, “When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, which would have been a disaster for the USA. When Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion.”

But Democrats have a hard time reconciling Lieberman’s campaign stump especially when it’s critical of Obama.

In 2004 Lieberman lost the Democratic presidential nomination, and in 2006 he lost the Democratic nomination to his senate seat, then recovered to win re-election as an independent.

Since that time cries from party insiders to kick the junior senator out of the Democratic party have grown. Last week it reached a climax at the Democratic National Convention, when state Rep. Jason Bartlett, R-Bethel, openly called for his ouster. In addition there’s whispers

Last Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention in Denver Bartlett said, “He needs to be stripped of his party membership, and it needs to happen right away.” His colleagues in Washington DC have been less willing to kick him out.

Connecticut’s Senior US Senator Chris Dodd said last week in Denver that “Joe is being Joe.” He said Lieberman is balanced and knows how to draw the line.

Back in the Senate, Democratic leaders have kept Lieberman in the fold in order to preserve a one-vote majority in the Senate, yet he has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the war in Iraq. He has traveled widely with McCain and angered Democrats with remarks that are critical of Obama.

As the Democratic margin in the Senate is expected to grow in November’s elections, it means the state’s Democratic party may heed Bartlett’s call.