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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Gore's Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In selecting Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, Vice President Al Gore has chosen someone who has both the assets and liabilities of Dick Cheney, the former defense secretary who is Republican Gov. George W. Bush's running mate.

Like Cheney, Lieberman is a solid citizen with an impeccable reputation for integrity. When you think of the Connecticut senator, words like "serious," "stature," "experience," "deliberative," and "principled" come to mind.

Like Cheney, Lieberman is no pretty boy selected for his youth and sex appeal. This is no grandstander. Instead, the Connecticut Democrat, like his GOP counterpart, is someone with the judgment and measured approach to politics to tough decisions while bringing various groups together to hammer out a broadly acceptable policy.

Like Cheney, Lieberman would make an excellent vice president, a trusted advisor. And, again like Cheney, he is someone who could handle the job of president if events forced that occasion.

But Lieberman also has many of Cheney's drawbacks as a running mate.

Like the Wyoming Republican, Lieberman can't deliver much in the way of electoral clout to the Democratic ticket. Yes, Lieberman guarantees that the Democratic ticket will carry Connecticut in November, but Gore should have won it anyway. If he can't carry that state on his own, there is no way he would be able to beat Bush nationally.

Lieberman, like Cheney, isn't known for charisma. A sense of humor? Sure. Good judgment? Certainly. But charisma? I don't think so.

Lieberman, like Cheney, doesn't have a reputation as an "attack dog," a role normally given to the nominee for vice president. That doesn't mean Lieberman won't be able to take a few shots at the GOP (Cheney did so in his acceptance speech), but it's hard to imagine Lieberman -- or Cheney -- filling the role that Bob Dole did in 1976.

On issues, however, Cheney's legislative record is more ideological, and he appeals to his party's conservative base. Lieberman is a DLC Democrat, more moderate than many in his party. That means he could help Gore appeal to centrists and swing voters, but it also means that Lieberman won't necessarily help consolidate the Democratic base, which is currently much "softer" than Bush's Republican base.

And while Cheney's need to take off a couple of weeks to finish his business dealings causes a scheduling problem or two, Lieberman is a scheduler's nightmare. He won't campaign one day out of seven, and he'll have to campaign around major Jewish holidays in late September and October. We aren't only talking about the High Holidays. We're also talking about the first two days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, as well as other days.

In selecting Lieberman, Gore is sacrificing a "past versus future" contrast that Democrats said they would use after Bush's choice of Cheney. Lieberman may not look as old as Cheney, but it's tough to imagine Gore effectively portraying the Democratic ticket as somehow more youthful or forward-looking than the Republican ticket.

Both Bush's selection of Cheney and Gore's selection of Lieberman reflect well on the presidential nominees. Gore's choice is more of a gamble -- or is at the least more dramatic -- since Lieberman is Jewish. So Gore gets more points for boldness.

But, overall, the choices of Lieberman and Cheney are similar n that neither one changes the dynamics of the 2000 presidential race, the way selecting Gov. Tom Ridge, R-Pennsylvania, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, or Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, would have.

All of the talk about Lieberman's independence and integrity, and of Cheney's defense and international policy experience, as well as maturity, isn't likely to matter very much when late October rolls around.

Are people going to vote for Bush even if they think he's dumb and unqualified in foreign affairs because they respect Cheney's judgment and experience? Are people going to vote for Gore if they doubt his leadership skills, think he is ethically challenged and want to close the book on Bill Clinton because Lieberman is on the ticket? The questions answer themselves.

While Cheney and Lieberman have drawn a lot of attention recently, neither one is likely to determine whether George Bush or Al Gore will win the White House. The presidential nominees themselves will have much more to say about which team wins and which loses.


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Tuesday, August 8, 2000


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