Published October 25. 2012 4:00AM
On a day when poll standings for Connecticut's two senator wannabes dominated headlines, the man they hope to replace remained officially neutral.
I attended a ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base Wednesday honoring retiring U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman in part to see whether he might be coaxed into an endorsement of either Republican candidate Linda McMahon or Democrat Chris Murphy.
Lieberman wouldn't take the bait, neither offering an endorsement nor a prediction of who might replace him.
He did, though, admit he is paying close attention.
"I would not be telling the truth if I said I don't follow it," he said with a big smile. "This one looks pretty close."
But after 40 years of electoral politics in Connecticut, the senator said, he is determined to sit this race out.
Lieberman, the Democratic senator who notoriously endorsed Republican John McCain for president in 2008, will evidently remain in his neutrality bunker for the remaining two months of his political career.
Lieberman was at the base Wednesday to receive what Navy Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two, called a rare honor.
After touring the Submarine Mississippi, the Navy's newest attack submarine, Lieberman was made an honorary submariner in a ceremony that included pinning him with the emblem of the submarine force, a set of dolphins, and a presentation of a Navy cap.
In front of the assembled crew of the Mississippi, Breckenridge thanked the retiring senator for his many years of support of the submarine service, calling him a great American patriot.
"He is something of a father of our undersea forces," Breckenridge said. "He helped get us the capability you take to sea. I wanted you to know that."
In his own remarks to the Mississippi crew, Lieberman, who has served 24 years in the Senate, recalled some of the great political battles over submarines, from the Save the Seawolf campaign at the end of the Cold War to the fight to keep the base in Groton open.
The senator said the single most thrilling day he experienced in all his years in the Senate was when the news broke that the base closure commission had spared the base here.
He added that the battle to preserve submarine funding will continue. Even during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress, the automatic cuts of sequestration will have to be stopped, an immense task with an uncertain outcome, he said.
Lieberman offered a nod to his fellow Democrats in Congress, saying both Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney are prepared to fight for submarine funding.
But he took a subtle swipe at President Obama, who during his last debate made fun of candidate Mitt Romney's criticism that the Navy fleet has fewer ships than it did in 1916.
Yes, we have fewer ships, but the nature of the military is different, Obama told Romney, adding what has become a tagline of this year's election: We also have fewer horses and bayonets.
"Without going into what was in the debate the other night, numbers do count," Lieberman said. "The size of the fleet counts."
This is the opinion of David Collins.