Lieberman's announcement Monday that he would file to begin a petition campaign for the November ballot was forced largely by the requirement that such signature petitions be filed with the state by Aug. 9.

Lieberman also said the primary could be decided by as few as 105,000 Democratic voters, or just 5 percent of the total number of registered Connecticut voters. He said the decision on his future should be made by "all the people of Connecticut."

Several high-ranking Democratic leaders Monday refused to criticize Lieberman's decision, saying only they intend to continue to work to help him win the primary.

"I am working to see that Joe Lieberman wins the Democratic primary on Aug. 8," said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3. "I will not speculate on the results of the primary. I fully expect Joe to win."

"Senator Lieberman's decision is one that I'm sure he has not made lightly and it reflects his commitment to continue to serve the people of our state in the U.S. Senate," said Lieberman's colleague, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn. Dodd also said he expects Lieberman to win the primary.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has refused to rule out the possibility that the panel might support Lieberman even if he ran as an independent.

State House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, said he is backing Lieberman in the primary and will back him if he runs as an independent. "I'm aggravated that some guy named Ned . . . is trying to buy himself a U.S. Senate seat," said Amann.

But Lieberman's threat to run as an independent is likely to anger more Democratic voters and cost him primary votes, according to some political scientists and Democratic leaders.

Scott McLean, chairman of Quinnipiac University's political science department, said Lieberman's decision is a political "insurance policy" that could turn out to be expensive. "It's going to cost him some Democrats and it's going to give ammunition to Lamont," McLean said.

"I'd still have to bet on Lieberman to win a three-way race (in November)," McLean said, adding that he believes it could turn out to be much closer than Lieberman and his allies believe.

Gary Rose, chairman of Sacred Heart University's department of government, said Lieberman's announcement shows him to be a political "opportunist."

"He has used the Democratic Party to fulfill his own career to this point, but then it seems like it becomes meaningless when he runs into trouble," Rose said.

Some establishment Democrats, like former state Chairman John F. Droney Jr., said they would have preferred to see Lieberman abandon the Democratic primary and begin his campaign as an independent now.

State Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said he continues to support Lieberman but added he is disappointed the incumbent has taken this route so soon. "But certainly . . . if he perceived the primary to be in any way close, it was inevitable," said Looney.

State Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, called Lieberman's decision "extremely disappointing," and pointed out that previous three-way contests haven't gone well for Connecticut Democrats. "It's not a good strategy," he said.

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