- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | President Bush turned over the reins of the Republican Party to John McCain on Tuesday night and then stepped aside as Mr. McCain’s friends touted him as a maverick and teamed up to blast his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, as the least-qualified nominee ever.

It was the first day of regular politicking in a convention that had been sidetracked by Hurricane Gustav, and delegates filled only about three-fourths of the seats in the Xcel Energy Center in the hours before late-evening speeches by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent, and former Sen. Fred Thompson, a former rival of Mr. McCain’s for the Republican nomination, who charged that Mr. Obama hasn’t earned the White House.

“Democrats present a history-making nominee for president - history-making in that he’s the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president,” Mr. Thompson said. “Apparently they believe that he would match up well with the history-making, Democrat-controlled Congress - history-making because it’s the least accomplished and most unpopular Congress in our nation’s history.”

Mr. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice-presidential nominee who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, was brutal in his evaluation, saying Mr. Obama has never reached across party lines to accomplish “anything significant.”

“Eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America,” he said, adding that Mr. Obama hasn’t taken on entrenched interests in the Democratic Party’s base.

Mr. Lieberman, a staunch supporter of Mr. McCain’s and Mr. Bush’s position on Iraq, also defended Mr. McCain as the real maverick, saying he is not a reincarnation of Mr. Bush - the principal Democratic attack.

“Don’t be fooled by some of these political statements and advertisements. Trust me, God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man,” he said.

His appearance is part of a larger effort by the McCain campaign to attract Democrats and independents, and he addressed them specifically: “Whether you are an independent, a Reagan Democrat, a Clinton Democrat or just a plain old Democrat, this year, when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to.”

Mr. Lieberman’s speech is bound to anger Democrats, a fact that wasn’t lost on delegates.

“It takes a great man to make a speech like that. He’s bound to fact repercussions,” said Ann Adams, a delegate from Mercer Island, Wash. “You have to recognize what a brave person he is and how deeply he feels about John McCain.”

Delegates were impressed with Mr. Thompson’s speech, which they said was more lively than his stumping as a candidate for the Republican ticket.

“He was lackluster. But this was fantastic,” said Don Brewster, a delegate from Bay City, Mich.

Those speeches dominated the evening, overshadowing Mr. Bush’s nine-minute address via video from the White House.

Republicans reworked the convention schedule after canceling most of Monday’s convention session in the face of Hurricane Gustav. But the decision to package Mr. Bush’s farewell in a single program with forward-looking praise from Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Thompson threatened to send mixed messages of past and future.

Mr. Bush was gracious crediting Mr. McCain with helping to “change history” by standing up for the troop surge in Iraq.

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