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GOP officials try to head off Lieberman pick

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Officials with John McCain's campaign made a series of conference calls Monday and Tuesday with supporters nationwide to say that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman may be named as the Arizona senator's vice presidential running mate, immediately sparking a frenzied effort by some state Republican officials to come up with a strategy to head off such a move, The Washington Times has learned.

One of the concerned state GOP officials told The Washington Times that he talked with two "high-level" campaign officials who said "Lieberman is a very real possibility."

Mr. Lieberman is a former Democrat who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. Now, he is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.

Mr. Lieberman, who is visiting the war-torn Republic of Georgia this week with Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and McCain loyalist, will address the Republican National Convention in St. Paul on Sept. 1.

A McCain political associate said that did not rule out Mr. McCain naming Mr. Lieberman as his running mate. A campaign official confirmed privately that Mr. Lieberman is still a preferred choice for the vice presidential job and could be moved to the traditional third day speaking slot that running mate's traditionally get. The McCain campaign prohibits anyone in its camp from talking with the press about a potential vice presidential candidate.

Related story: Sen. Lieberman to speak at GOP convention

Mr. McCain last week played up former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a pro-choice Republican, as a possible running mate. Mr. Ridge was President Bush's first secretary of homeland security. Conservatives and evangelicals threw cold water on the idea.

All the while, McCain confidant Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, has been making the case for Mr. Lieberman, a Republican official said.

Mr. Graham has been telling Mr. McCain that in the present political climate, he needs to pick someone who will turn traditional politcs upside down and draw Democrats and independents away from Mr. Obama, a Graham friend told The Washington Times. But the latest Battleground poll now show Mr. McCain has gone from a 14 percentage point disadvantage in May to a 10 percentage-point advantage with independents.

Concerned state GOP officials on Tuesday discussed by telephone and e-mail whether to organize delegates to reject Mr. Lieberman if his name comes up for a floor vote for the vice presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention if Mr. McCain actually does name him, either before or at the beginning of the Sept. 1-4 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Sept. 3.

But heading off a Lieberman pick beforehand would avoid having to embarrass the GOP nominee by publicly rejecting his judgment on the choice for vice president at a convention watched on television by much of the nation.

Whether Mr. Lieberman would transform the McCain campaign into a bipartisan winner or a disaster is open to debate.

The McCain campaign has said the senator might choose someone who is "transformational" for American politics a vice presidential pick who would be "out of the box."

Mr. McCain has well-established pro-life credentials that he further burnished with his nationally televised appearance at a Lake Forest, Calif., megachurch on Saturday.

Naming Mr. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who is pro-choice and voted against a ban on partial-birth abortions, would certainly transform Republican presidential politics. Not since Republican President Abraham Lincoln chose Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate in 1864 has the GOP taken a bipartisan leap.

Some say tapping Mr. Lieberman would seal the deal with foreign-policy hawks and with those evangelicals who see the preservation of Israel as a biblical imperative.

"I don't think there is a lot he could do that would endanger Senator McCain's candidacy, based on the stark differences between him and Barack Obama with evangelical voters," said Randy Brinson, an evangelical and Montgomery, Ala., physician who founded the national Redeem the Vote movement. "Lieberman is strong on supporting Israel and Judeo-Christian values, so I don't think it hurts his cause if he decides to pick Lieberman."

In a Rasmussen Reports poll last month, 58 percent of Republicans held a favorable view of Mr. Lieberman, but only 13 percent had a "very favorable" view of him.

But in a June Rasmussen survey, 42 percent of all voters said Mr. McCain should not invite Mr. Lieberman onto his ticket, and 40 percent said they weren't sure. Among Republicans 19 percent thought it was a good idea; 14 percent of Democrats agreed.

Larry Eastland, a conservative activist and corporate executive in Santa Monica, Calif., said Mr. Lieberman "would give McCain 'buzz' something he is not getting now."

Mr. Eastland said that as a conservative, he would have a tough time voting for a Republican ticket that included the man who was Democrat AlMr. Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential election.

To the consternation of Democratic lawmakers, Mr. Lieberman has been campaigning with Mr. McCain. That has stirred admiration for him from some Republicans and skepticism from others.

"Evangelicals and conservatives would be confused with Lieberman on the ticket," said Shawn Steel, newly elected Republican National Committee member from California. Besides, he said, Mr. McCain is "solid on Israel" and needs no additional support in this area.

Former Delaware GOP Chairman Terry Strine thinks it would be all downside with Mr. Lieberman.

"I have seen shudders from many Republican activists over the rumors that Lieberman may be selected by McCain," Mr. Strine said. "They say he totally lacks charisma, is a lackluster speaker, he has no economic credentials, has no executive experience, is liberal on every issue except the war in Iraq."

About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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