CT SEN: LIEBERMAN TO KEEP SENIORITY? The Hill reports today that Sen. Joe Lieberman, who left the Democratic Party in August to run for the Senate under a banner of his own making, may be able to keep his seniority in the caucus after all.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, the longtime Democratic senator from Connecticut running for re-election as an independent, says the party leadership has assured him he would keep his seniority if he returns to Congress.

Local Democrats are responding with irritation, political opponents voice disbelief, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) denies making a decision.

Jim Manley, a spokesperson for the Senate Minority Leader, said the party can wrestle with these questions after the Nov. 7 election. In the meantime, however, the rumors about assurances to Lieberman will be disappointing to party activists, who believe Lieberman should face some consequences for taking on the Democratic nominee, and just as importantly, should garner some criticism from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Lautenberg retired from the Senate in 2000, after 18 years in the chamber, but, at the party's urging, re-entered politics in 2002. He won a fourth term and returned to the Senate. Despite his previous service, however, Lautenberg lost all of his seniority and started at the bottom of every committee. He never left the party, but his brief retirement was enough.

Lieberman, meanwhile, believes he can leave the party temporarily and maintain his seniority in the Democratic caucus, a belief which someone in the leadership has apparently bolstered of late. If Lieberman gets to keep his seniority, Lautenberg may demand similar treatment. It's not just an academic exercise -- if the party acquiesces, New Jersey's senior senator could leapfrog Lieberman to lead the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee or the Environment and Public Works Committee.

--Steve Benen (crossposted on Midterm Madness)