RANDOM NUTMEG NOTES. First of all, my guess (it�s only a guess) is that Lieberman will drop out. I said why in the last paragraph of this Web piece last week, but it bears repeating.

Establishment Democrats want to take back the Senate. Period. They don�t want any distractions. From the day he announced until yesterday, Lamont was the distraction. But starting today, Lieberman is -- he, not Lamont, now sucks oxygen out of Democratic efforts to win Senate races. I get a lot of things wrong in life, but I think I can say with confidence that in situations like this, this is how politicians think. Electoral life is replete with obstacles, and the first thing pols want to do is minimize obstacles.

So my bet is that Schumer, Reid, et al. have been thinking about how to minimize the distraction-in-Connecticut obstacle for days now. So they�ll lean hard on Lieberman, and they�ll work to get the Clintons to do the same, and urge everyone to follow suit. If the frame is set properly and the drumbeat gets loud enough, Lieberman will have to leave because he�s just look like a recalcitrant and selfish fool.

Now, I�ll argue against myself in four points:

1. Leverage: What leverage over Lieberman do all these people have? Not much; just moral suasion. They can�t make him do anything.

2. Polls: Undoubtedly a three-way poll will come out next week. What will it say? If it says something like Lamont 47, Lieberman 33, and Schlesinger 20, then that�s pressure (and leverage for the Dems). But if it�s more like 40-40-20, then that�s a boost for Joe.

3. Money: Will Lieberman still have access to dough? His cash-on-hand as of July 19 (the last filing) was $3.5 million. Assuming he both spent a lot and raised a lot since then, he�s sitting on a nice chunk of change. And he wouldn�t really have to campaign hard until mid-September. So here, too, he could be just fine.

4. The Pundit Class: When all is said and done, the pundits are Lieberman�s most loyal constituency. What is Cokie thinking today? Broder? This Sunday�s shows will be key here. If even the chatterers think Joe Must Go (remember Jets Coach Joe Walton? Maybe Fineman will show up on Matthews with a brown paper bag over his head!), then I think he�s really toast.

Meanwhile, here I go, steeling myself for the remonstrances of Patience and others: Lamont did himself zero favors last night by having Sharpton and Jesse Jackson standing next to him. NO, not for that reason. And I know they helped him get votes. But they did not belong on the stage, because a) they�re not from Connecticut, and b) they do have baggage (especially Sharpton; Jesse at this point is mostly sort of past his prime).

I am not here declaring myself to be in the camp of that well-known ultramontane feuilletonist, Martin Peretz, whose perfervid rantings this morning about Jesse and Al at the Plank go way over the top and are self-discrediting.

At the same time, though, Sharpton is not just another good progressive anti-war blah blah blah. I covered the man for years. I watched him, in concert with a few allies, hand Mike Bloomberg City Hall in 2001 (yes, I can back this claim up in great detail). I watched him -- along with Gerry Ferraro (not working in concert, but each separately maneuvering toward the same outcome) submarine Democrat Bob Abrams and help see that Al D�Amato was reelected in 1992, thus enabling him to go on to chair the Whitewater hearings. As Garance noted at this morning�s editorial meeting, Sharpton isn�t good at winning elections himself, but he�s quite expert at making sure the person he�s against loses. And that is about it.

Lamont made a mistake -- probably not a big one, but I hope someone is telling him clearly that it was a mistake (Ned: When someone calls you an �Al Sharpton Democrat,� the idea is not to go out and become one!). I think further that he wants to be awfully careful about people chanting �Bring them home!� when he speaks. I�m as appalled by this war as anyone reading this, I promise you. But part of Lamont�s appeal has to be, especially if Lieberman stays in, that he is a sensible liberal-to-moderate guy who can beat Lieberman among the state�s 900,000 independents (remember, he�s not that far ahead among the state�s 700,000-odd Democrats). His performance last night tells me he needs to think his posture through a bit more.

--Michael Tomasky