FLAT-FOOTED JOE. The recent news that Joe Lieberman is abandoning some portions of his late-campaign field effort seems like a stunning, late-game admission of defeat. What it is, rather, is an admission that Lieberman got caught flat-footed by the Lamont insurgency much earlier than this week.

For all the war metaphors abused in writing about politics, the field campaign is actually the one case where the analogy is most relevant. A get-out-the-vote effort is expensive, plodding, inefficient, and labor-intensive -- just like the massing and marching of armies are, with their supply lines and recon. A voter contact effort is not one step back to make two steps forward; it would be wildly efficient if that were the case. It�s more like five steps back to make six steps forward: Still a net of one step ahead, but at much greater costs.

Lieberman's potentially fatal error was that, by the time he realized the Lamont challenge was real, it was simply too late to build a proper field plan to beat back Lamont. Democratic club presidents in this town or that are replaced, move, die or retire. Phone numbers and contact info, if you even have them, are often obsolete. Re-connecting and making new connections statewide cannot be done overnight. Absent Lamont, Lieberman would have raised a few million, hit the TV and radio airwaves with a basic message, took a perfunctory tour of the state, and coasted to re-nomination and re-election. By the time his campaign staff realized that after years of neglect that Lieberman�s electoral apparatus was rusted and cobwebby, it was too late.

Oddly enough, that makes Lieberman�s late-game tactical field decision perfectly rational, even if the decision is itself a consequence of a major strategic blunder made long ago. The lesson? There is no substitute for readiness because the one commodity all the PAC contributions in the world cannot buy in the vital, late stages of a campaign is often the resource that matters most: time. And building a proper field campaign requires a lot of time.

--Tom Schaller