Christine Stuart photo
John Mertens (Christine Stuart photo)

HARTFORD – In an upstairs room of a neighborhood bar Wednesday, members of the Connecticut for Lieberman Party quietly nominated John Mertens to run for U.S. Senate in 2010.

“I’m the first person in the country to earn a ballot line for the U.S. Senate,“ Mertens, a professor of engineering at Trinity College, exclaimed.

Mertens, who wasn’t included in Thursday’s Quinnipiac University poll on the race,  received 52 votes to win the nomination.

Following the vote, Mertens said he’s in the race to win it and his goal is to get into the debates to talk about issues he thinks the major party candidates will ignore. Mertens, who offers 30 public policy position papers on his campaign’s Web site, said his goal is to educate people about these issues. His other goal is to garner at least one percent of the vote to preserve the party’s ballot line for the 2012 election.

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is up for re-election in 2012. Lieberman started the party and then abandoned it after winning re-election in 2006. However, Democratic activists like New Haven’s Ed Anderson believe Mertens’ 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate jeopardizes the ballot line.

Anderson, who missed the nomination vote by a few minutes Wednesday night, drove from New Haven to Hartford to tell Mertens he’s worried because “it’s not about Lieberman anymore.”

The Lieberman critics who took over the party after the 2006 election planned to use it to mount an offensive against Lieberman in 2012.

“Running under the Connecticut for Lieberman Party renders you a joke,” Anderson told Mertens. “Why not run as an Independent?”

“I’m committed to getting one percent of the vote,” Mertens said.

He said if he doesn’t think he’s able to do that, the party can hold another caucus and cross-endorse Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the presumptive Democratic nominee who replaced U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd on Jan. 6. A cross-endorsement of Blumenthal would mean the party would be more likely to get enough votes to secure the ballot line for 2012, whereas Mertens may face an uphill battle to get one percent.

“This is supposed to be funny, but you’re taking this way too seriously,” Anderson told Mertens.

The key here, however, may be in that the Connecticut for Lieberman party already has secured a ballot line for 2010, which is no small feat. But it will lose the ballot line and will have to petition back onto the ballot in 2012, if Mertens doesn’t get one percent.

Mertens said he has raised about $500, but has a marketing plan to air four, 30-minute public policy television shows on the state’s 35 public access stations. In addition, Mertens said he’s been promised print space and air time by major media outlets.

Just last month the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group, used Mertens to film an advertisement targeting Lieberman for his stance on the health care bill’s public option. Mertens estimates the ad was seen by 2 million people and his campaign didn’t pay a dime for the free publicity.

“It was shown on the Rachel Maddow show – that’s got to be at least 1 million viewers,“ Mertens said. He said the commercial criticizing Lieberman has been instrumental in developing the CFL platform: anti-war, anti-corruption, and sustainable fiscal, social, and environmental policies.

But Mertens’ critics expressed their discontent with the liberal advocacy group for including him in the ad. Some even suggested that the party be renamed ‘Connecticut for Mertens,’ because it helped inflate his ego. 

“It’s not about ego,“ Mertens said. “The only way to get one percent of the vote is to run to win.”

“I’m doing what’s the will of the party,” Mertens said shrugging off the critics.

In a blog post last October Mertens said his motivation isn’t selfish.

“I will tell the unadulterated truth about the huge, long term problems that we face, the real issues that career politicians refuse to address because they care more about getting re-elected in two, or four, or six years, than they care about doing what’s right for us, the people,” Mertens wrote. “I am running a serious campaign to bring real problem-solving to government.”

Anderson said that’s the problem. He said he’s not discouraging Mertens from running for office as an Independent or Green, but even the name “Connecticut for Lieberman” is a joke.

Quinnipiac University Poll Director Doug Schwartz wouldn’t say Thursday whether Mertens may be included in the next poll on the U.S. Senate race. Fundraising, press coverage, inclusion in other polls are all factors in determining whether to include a third party candidate in a poll, Schwartz said.