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CAMPAIGN 2000

Gore Chooses Sen. Lieberman as Running Mate

Campaign: The moderate is the first Jew on a major U.S. party ticket. Democratic, religious groups hail the selection. GOP claims his positions more closely match Bush's.

August 08, 2000|EDWIN CHEN and MARK Z. BARABAK | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NASHVILLE — Al Gore broke one of the long-standing barriers in presidential politics Monday by selecting U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut to be his running mate. Lieberman became the first Jew in American history picked for a major party ticket.

The vice president offered the job to Lieberman in a midday phone call and Lieberman readily accepted. "That was the call. It was directly from Al Gore," Lieberman told reporters as he pulled up to his home in New Haven, Conn., cell phone still in hand.

"We said a short prayer together," Lieberman said, adding: "Miracles happen."

In picking the two-term senator, Gore chose a running mate from the political center, a devoutly religious man who was the first Democrat to condemn President Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky. Lieberman has also established his credentials as one of Washington's leading moralists by crusading against Hollywood sex and violence.

A onetime state senator and Connecticut attorney general, Lieberman, 58, is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a Washington think tank that helped incubate many of the party's more centrist positions on welfare reform, deficit reduction and world trade.

Aides said Lieberman's faith was a key reason for Gore's decision, which he made early Monday after a final marathon meeting with top advisors. (Although Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP nominee, had a Jewish father, he embraced his mother's Episcopalian faith.)

Eager to dispel Gore's plodding image, aides made comparisons to John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic to be elected president, who was nominated 40 years ago at the last national party convention in Los Angeles.

"The pick says a lot about Vice President Gore," said deputy campaign manager Mark Fabiani. "It says a lot about his judgment and his values. It's a very dramatic and very bold pick."

The two men plan their first joint appearance today at a noontime rally at the War Memorial in Nashville. Their ticket will be sealed at next week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

By passing over other candidates with explicit appeal to the party's left wing, Gore showed confidence in his ability to consolidate Democratic support--which remains soft--and reach out to the independent and swing voters he will need to win in November.

Lieberman has taken positions on issues, from school vouchers to defense spending, that are more conservative than many Democrats prefer.

Still, the reaction Monday was almost uniformly supportive across the party spectrum.

A 'Bold and Courageous Choice'

"I wouldn't say dancing in the streets, but we're not gnashing our teeth either," said Amy Isaacs, national director of Americans for Democratic Action, a leading liberal group that rates lawmakers on their congressional votes. "There are areas where we disagree with him. On the other hand, if you look at a 77% lifetime voting record for Lieberman versus 4% for [Republican vice presidential nominee] Dick Cheney, there's a clear and distinct difference."

Among Jewish groups, the reaction was nothing short of euphoric. "Al Gore has made history today and we are thrilled about his bold and courageous choice," said William B. Dockser, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

The selection was even big news in Israel, where Lieberman was the lead story on evening broadcasts.

From Austin, Texas, the Bush campaign offered a statement praising Lieberman as "a good man." At the same time, the campaign pointed out--and somewhat exaggerated--some of the differences between the vice president and his new running mate.

"From Social Security reform to missile defense, tort reform to parental notification, and from school choice to affirmative action, Al Gore has chosen a man whose positions are more similar to Gov. Bush's than to his own," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. "The fact that Al Gore is willing to select a running mate whose positions he has attacked throughout this campaign will cause many to question Al Gore's commitment to the positions he takes."

But a Gore spokesman dismissed any conflict between the two Democrats. "Al Gore is at the top of the ticket," said press secretary Chris Lehane. "The ticket is going to reflect his agenda."

In selecting Lieberman, Gore hopes to set up a contrast between "the new guard" and "the old guard," as Fabiani put it. The difference is not generational: At age 59, Cheney is only a year older than Lieberman. Rather, Democrats hope to compare Cheney's traditional Republican beliefs with Lieberman's involvement in the "New Democrat" movement, which guided the party away from much of its reigning orthodoxy.

Moreover, Lieberman is a relatively fresh face on the national political scene, although he may be a bit too fresh. "In the South he's largely unknown," said Merle Black, who teaches political science at Atlanta's Emory University. "In the short run I don't think he helps much because people don't even know who he is."

Gore Uses Himself as a Model

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