For many Americans, the Connecticut U.S. Senate race has become a referendum on how America should proceed in Iraq. Ned Lamont advocates beginning to withdraw troops, essentially accepting defeat and giving up on the country as a lost cause. Though the outlook is certainly grim and Americans are sacrificing their lives on a daily basis, to sweep into Iraq championing democracy and then to leave it in a state of bloody civil war would be a betrayal of the Iraqi people. It would also severely undermine America’s ability to conduct foreign policy, emboldening enemies like North Korea and Iran that are already trying to take advantage of America’s difficult position. Iraq has become a front line in the fight against terrorism, and while the violence there has ethnic roots that have little to do with al-Qaida, giving up on the country would hand terrorists a clear victory in the eyes of the world. There is little hope for the rainbow state that President George W. Bush envisioned as the invasion began, but we can still hope to create enough stability in Iraq that its people, and America’s ability to influence world affairs, do not suffer catastrophic damage.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman has hardly shown perfect judgment with regard to Iraq — he defends the decision to go to war long after it became clear that war was a mistake. Lamont, on the other hand, has been a powerful voice in the public debate over that decision and correctly points out that President Bush’s plans were flawed from the start. But looking forward, Lieberman seems to recognize the devastating implications of premature withdrawal. Given that the Connecticut race may influence Iraq policy more than any other race on Tuesday, his election is an important step in the best of two painful directions.

Lieberman has also demonstrated his ability to cross party lines and work with moderates on both sides of the aisle, which will allow him to push for legislation on the various issues that are important to Connecticut voters. As a member of the Gang of 14, Lieberman proved his willingness to work with fellow moderates to take the “nuclear option” off the table with regard to judicial nominees, thereby preserving an critical check on the executive power. If the Democrats do not regain a majority in both houses of Congress on Tuesday, Connecticut and the nation will benefit from a senator who knows the realities of Washington and can work within those constraints to achieve compromise.

Furthermore, in an election in which moderate candidates like Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) are running under the mantle of the Democratic Party, it is increasingly clear that to be successful, the Democrats must open up the tent. Casey, Webb and Lieberman share the party’s core belief in expanding economic and educational opportunities, even if differences persist on some social issues. As a long-time Democrat who has shown his willingness to diverge from the party line on a few matters of principle, Lieberman could serve as both a liaison to and a role model for the diverse “New ‘New Democrats’” who may take office in January.

Tuesday’s election should be about more than the war, and it has attracted many new Democratic voters. Lieberman’s continuing voice on their side will help turn a 2006 victory into long-term success for the party.

We support Sen. Joseph Lieberman for U.S. Senate.