HARTFORD — A day after ending his bid for the presidency, Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 returned home to Connecticut and pledged to continue working on behalf of his home state in the U.S. Capitol.

Joined by many of Connecticut’s most prominent Democrats, Lieberman thanked his family and constituents for their support over the course of a campaign that saw him fall from a front-runner to a fifth- or sixth-place finisher in many of the nation’s early primaries. Yet while Lieberman said he was disappointed by his failure to earn the Democratic nomination, he said he was proud of what his campaign stood for and would continue to fight for his agenda in the Senate.

“Running for president was a great journey, but it is very good to be home,” Lieberman said after entering a conference room at the Hartford City Hall to cheers of “Let’s go, Joe.”

Returning to the city where he spent 16 years as a state senator and later as attorney general, Lieberman, who was flanked by his wife Hadassah, delivered a solemn address in which he recounted some of the things he had learned as a public official. Foremost among these lessons, Lieberman said, was his belief that Democrats need a centrist message to be successful on both a local and national level.

“Elections in America are won in the mainstream, not at either extreme,” Lieberman said. “I believe more deeply than ever that these are the right lessons for my party and the right lessons for our country.”

Lieberman, who began his campaign for president 80 miles away at the high school he had attended in Stamford, entered the race for the presidency at the top of many national polls. Yet while his role as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000 had made him a household name among many voters, Lieberman’s campaign failed to catch fire as the nation’s first primaries approached.

In particular, Lieberman’s steadfast support for the war in Iraq — as well as his advocacy of free trade and his identity as an orthodox Jew — led many Democratic voters to label him as too conservative. As former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71 and other candidates sharply criticized President George W. Bush’s foreign policy, Lieberman’s campaign slipped in the polls, especially in early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who joined Lieberman last night as he delivered his concession speech, said in a telephone interview yesterday that Lieberman ran a first-rate campaign that illustrated his integrity. DeLauro, who will vote at the Democratic National Convention as an unpledged “super-delegate” free to support any candidate, said she had not yet decided whether to publicly endorse another contender.

“He’s a man of tremendous faith and values,” DeLauro said. “He said and did what he felt was the right thing to do.”

Yet while Lieberman had earned the public endorsements of DeLauro and several other top Connecticut Democrats, his support in the race for the nomination had weakened significantly even at home. Last week, a poll released by the University of Connecticut showed that only 18 percent of likely primary voters surveyed planned to vote for Lieberman — compared to 43 percent for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

New Haven Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Suzie Voigt said she thought most Elm City voters were still watching the outcomes of primaries in other states before deciding who to support when they go to the polls March 2. Voigt said that while local voters liked Lieberman personally, most New Haven Democrats had now turned their attention to choosing the most “electable” candidate.

“Certainly here in New Haven, Joe enjoyed a lot of support,” Voigt said. “He’s been a well-respected and really well-liked senator for so many years.”

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