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Playing the independent card in Connecticut

From NBC's Mark Murray
After Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman lost his primary in August to Ned Lamont, and then decided to stay in the race as independent, one of the big political debates in Washington has been whether his candidacy will help or hurt Democrats as they try to win three GOP-held House seat. Some say it will help because Democrats will be turning out to vote (either for Lieberman or Lamont) and that turnout will benefit the Democratic House challengers. But others think it will hurt because the endangered House GOP incumbents -- Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, and Nancy Johnson -- have all endorsed Lieberman (or at least praised his independent bid), and they're all targeting the same kind of voters Lieberman is: moderate Democrats, independents, and Republicans.

Well, those in the "hurt" column might find their argument strengthened now that Shays has launched a new TV ad mirroring Lieberman's own message -- that he's an independent who can get things done. In his new ad, Shays says, "I've never been a partisan politician. I've gone against the president and the Republican leadership when I think they're wrong... I believe we are Americans first and Republicans and Democrats second." But Bill Burton, a spokesman at the Democratic House campaign committee, tells First Read that Shay's appeal to the middle won't work, since he has voted 100 percent of the time with President Bush on Iraq (even though he now calls for a timetable for withdrawal).

Speaking of Lieberman, his campaign is up with a brand-new ad that touts his experience and highlights Lamont's lack thereof. In the ad, one woman says, "There are huge issues facing this country." A man replies, "Now more than ever, we really need experience." Then another woman asks, "What kind of experience does Lamont have?"

And in Tennessee's competitive Senate race, Bob Corker (R) is running a radio ad that uses the L-word -- liberal -- to jab opponent Harold Ford (D). "Massachusetts Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kerry today unveiled their agenda for the next Congress," the ad announcer says. "And it's a very liberal one indeed. It seems like some liberal northern senators live in a different world. But they could be closer than you think. Because congressman Harold Ford agrees with them. And he wants to be Tennessee's next senator."