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Election 2000: Gore Attempts to Head Off GOP Issues with V.P. Choice

Aired August 7, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore's choice of running mate is not your average Joe. He's Joseph Lieberman, the 58-year-old two-term Democratic senator from Connecticut. A former state attorney general, Lieberman's reputation rests largely on his own convictions.


(voice-over): He was elected to the Senate in 1988, but is was a speech he gave a decade later in the throws of the Monica Lewinsky scandal that made the nation take note of Joe Lieberman.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Such behavior is not just inappropriate, it is immoral. And it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children.


WATERS: Politically, the former state attorney general is described most often as a New Democrat. He supported welfare reform. And he helped rally lawmakers of both parties behind the Persian Gulf War. And with an unlikely ally, conservative Republican William Bennett, Lieberman waged a war of his own against sex and violence in popular culture.


LIEBERMAN: Orgasmic moans, incestuous leering, urinating for revenge, nothing seems too degrading to be played for a cheap laugh.


WATERS: He's a deeply religious man. The first Jewish vice presidential candidate from a major party in U.S. history.

In the past, Lieberman has declined to engage in purely political activities, such as campaigning, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. He says he works during the Jewish sabbath only, in his words, for the respect and protection of human life and well-being.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WATERS: Hours after the news leaked out, but before he got that phone call from Al Gore, an emotional Joe Lieberman said, "miracles happen."

CNN's Frank Buckley now joins us now from Hartford, Connecticut, with more on the happiest man in New England -- Frank.

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, when the senator was here about an hour ago, he told the crowd -- joked with the crowd that he had not yet received that telephone call, and said if the phone rings, please interrupt me. And in fact, during the presentation the phone did ring. It was not the vice president calling, however.

Lieberman was welcomed here by a home state crowd, a friendly one. This was the beginning of the introduction of Joe Lieberman to a national audience. The popular senator telling the convention of union members that his parents were workers who eventually ran a package store, or a liquor store, some might call it. He said if he was, as he put it, lucky enough to get a promotion, he would fight for working people.

Lieberman also took the opportunity to attack Republicans and their recent national convention.


LIEBERMAN: A look on the other hand, at the other party, look on the far right hand, at the other party and what they have to offer. I know that they sometimes say "read my lips," and maybe listening to that convention last week, it's because all they did was pay lip service to some genuine human needs across our country.


BUCKLEY: Lieberman spoke here for 37 minutes and then left shortly, just a few minutes ago and went back to his home in New Haven, which is about a half hour from here, presumably to wait for that phone call from Vice President Al Gore -- Lou.

WATERS: Frank, the opposition has been doing what we refer to as opposition research on Senator Lieberman and others who are under consideration to be Al Gore's running mate. Are they going to find anything in that voting record, like the Democrats did with Cheney, to pick him apart over the next few days?

BUCKLEY: Well, one of the things that they will point to is something that opponents, political opponents, here in Connecticut point to. And that is the idea that Lieberman may say one thing but actually vote another way. One of the things that they like to point to, for example, is on the Clinton matter. He was so forceful in his speech on the Senate floor, then ultimately voted to acquit the president, to not to impeach. So that is the kind of thing that they will go for when they're looking into his past.

WATERS: All right, CNN's Frank Buckley, following the Lieberman story from Hartford, Connecticut today.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the choice of an outspoken moderate with a reputation for moral integrity is seen by many as an attempt by Gore to distance himself from his boss of eight years.

And speaking today from his vacation retreat on Martha's Vineyard, President Clinton said it is a master stroke.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's one of the most outstanding people in public life. I worked with him for 15 years or more through the Democratic Leadership Council. He's a bold thinker. He's always filled with new ideas. He supported the changes that we've made over the last eight years that turned America around and moved America forward. I think he's just an extraordinary guy.


ALLEN: On a related note, CNN has learned that in the president's speech next week to the Democratic convention, he may, may absolve Gore of any responsibility for the problems that led to Mr. Clinton's impeachment. It is far from certain, however. Some advisers are said to see a downside in dredging up the Monica Lewinsky scandal at the outset of a four-day pep rally.

WATERS: And how do Republicans feel about Gore-Lieberman? George W. Bush isn't commenting, yet, but his campaign spokesman calls Lieberman, and we're quoting him, "a good man." The spokesman says, "it's nice the vice president picked someone who agreed with Governor Bush on so many issues." A spokesman for Lieberman points out the senator's differences with the Texas Governor are much, much greater than the similarities.

ALLEN: Lieberman joins an underdog campaign with an overwhelming responsibility to win over all, or most of those voters undecided or leaning against Al Gore. It is a large group. The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll shows Bush leading Gore by 17 points, 54 to 37 percent. Bush's post-convention bounce amounts to a pickup of four percentage points, and a loss of two points for Gore.

Well, joining us to tell us what that means or doesn't mean for Gore and Lieberman's prospects is CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Hi there, Bill.


ALLEN: What's the strategy behind picking Joseph Lieberman?

SCHNEIDER: Well, clearly, as you said, it's an effort to distance himself from Clinton's personal problems, because Joe Lieberman was one of the most outspoken Democrats, one of the first Democrats to condemn the president's behavior, though ultimately he voted to acquit. Also he's one of the most nonpartisan figures. He's right in the middle of the Senate, reaches out to independents and Republicans, can build bridges, make coalitions between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans. And one other thing, he's a strong advocate of the place of religious values in American public life. And on that issue, even though he's an observant Jew, he agrees with a lot of religious right leaders on the place of religious values in American politics.

ALLEN: Any risks involved in picking him?

SCHNEIDER: Well, of course, the great unknown, is there any risk of anti-semitism? And we simply don't know. You can't poll for that, because people, if they are anti-semites, they're not going to say so in a poll. And they're not even sure how they'd respond to the first opportunity to vote for a Jewish candidate for national office. That is a great unknown. We simply can't tell.

It doesn't add any particular geographic advantage, Connecticut, already strongly -- the northeast is strongly Democratic. The Jewish vote, well, Clinton in 1996 got about 80 percent of the Jewish vote. It's a very small vote and it's already heavily Democratic. And he's not a particularly youthful or dynamic figure who is an effective communicator on television, so you can't say he adds that to the ticket.

Also, there are points in his record that could be criticized from, especially from liberals on issues like the minimum wage, tuition tax credits for school vouchers other issues like that. But my guess is liberals are going to be somewhat muted in their criticism because of the clear demonstration of inclusiveness on this ticket.

ALLEN: Should this cause any change of strategy for the Bush camp?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think it's caught the Bush camp up short. Because, look, what Gore has done is really trumped the Bush camp on a number of issues that they were trying to claim. They were trying to demonstrate their inclusiveness. Well, Gore trumped them, first Jewish candidate on the national ticket. They were trying to move to the center. Well, Gore trumped them, he nominated a guy who's a very legitimate centrist in American politics.

And, of course, on the Clinton issue, Bush has been -- and Cheney both made veiled criticisms of Clinton's behavior. Now the Democrats have a vice presidential running mate who's a very overt and sharp critic of the president's behavior. Sort of all those grounds, the Bush has found its ammunition really taken away from it.

ALLEN: Official announcement comes tomorrow. Thanks, Bill Schneider, in Washington.

SCHNEIDER: Sure enough.



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