- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

TAMARAC, Fla. At 58 years old, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman has become the Jewish Elvis.
Vice President Al Gore and the Connecticut senator dropped in yesterday at Kings Point, a mostly Jewish senior center in Broward County, to push their proposed $3,000 tax credit for long-term care.
Mr. Gore received an enthusiastic response. Mr. Lieberman was mobbed like a prodigal mensch.
The Gore camp calls it "Liebermania." Along the rope line, elderly Jewish residents chanted "Joe! Joe! Joe!"
A heavyset woman with silver hair kissed Mr. Lieberman's hand, leaving a mark in bright-red lipstick. "It's like kissing the Torah," she said.
Helen Portner, 72, another Jewish resident at Kings Point, wept at the sight of Mr. Lieberman.
"I'm extremely proud," said Mrs. Portner. "My parents came to America in the early 1920s, before Hitler, thank God, or I wouldn't be here today."
Mr. Lieberman tossed around Hebrew and Yiddish like confetti as he introduced Mr. Gore.
"Where else would the mayor come up to me and say, 'Shalom aleichem,' " said Mr. Lieberman, who translated the greeting as "peace to you."
Mr. Lieberman said his wife, Hadassah, and Mr. Gore's wife, Tipper, are so popular that he and the vice president feel like "nuchshleppers," a Yiddish colloquialism for "tagalongs."
Florida, with 25 electoral votes, looms as a critical battleground state in the Nov. 7 election. In 1996, President Clinton became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Florida since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
Republican nominee George W. Bush has a crucial asset in Florida. His brother, Jeb, is the state's governor and contributes insights, phone banks and precinct workers to the Texas governor's campaign.
Mr. Lieberman is a not-so-secret weapon in Mr. Gore's Florida campaign.
Florida's 620,000 Jewish residents make up 4.3 percent of the state's population, according to the Census Bureau. Florida has the nation's third-largest Jewish population, ranking behind only New York and California.
The Bush campaign said Mr. Lieberman would not be decisive.
"At the end of the day, voters are going to make their decision on who should be the next president of the United States," said Dan Bartlett, a campaign spokesman.
"This is between George Bush and Al Gore. We are confident that Floridians are going to rally behind Governor Bush's compassionate conservatism."
Mr. Lieberman told the seniors at Kings Point that American GIs liberated his wife's mother from the Dachau concentration camp.
"The thought that I would stand before you today is a remarkable testament to the continuing power of the American dream," Mr. Lieberman said. He quoted an old saying in his family: "In America, nothing is too good for a mensch."
"It's my honor to be running, of course, for vice president. A barrier was broken," Mr. Lieberman said. "But I didn't do it. Al Gore broke the barrier."
The seniors offered a standing ovation as Mr. Lieberman introduced Mr. Gore as a "Yiddishe neshoma," a Jewish soul.
Mr. Gore got into the act. The seniors applauded when he said he was a new grandfather.
"Thank you," Mr. Gore said. "Mazeltov." A pep band of seniors played "Havah Nagilah" as the vice president left the stage.
The Gore campaign hopes an emphasis on "saving Social Security" and adding a prescription-drug benefit to Medicare will make good politics in the state.
"Florida is a state that is in a statistical dead heat," Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said. It is "a state where Al Gore and Joe Lieberman's policy positions [are] very good politics," he said.
Yesterday marked Mr. Gore's third trip this year to Broward County, which has more seniors than any other U.S. county.
Mr. Lehane declined to gauge the impact of Mr. Lieberman's faith. The senator "transcends any particular group" and is "popular all over the country," he said.
Following the event, seniors at Kings Point reflected on Mr. Lieberman's nomination as panicked reporters scrambled to learn Yiddish spellings on deadline.
Mr. Lieberman's nomination "will be an asset because, initially, it breaks the ethnic barrier that has existed for so many years," said Leon Seltzer, 82. "It shows that the vice president has an open mind and is selecting a running mate based on his credentials and his past performance."
One elderly Democrat along the rope line urged Mr. Lieberman to pass along a message to Mr. Gore. He said Mr. Gore must remember "tachlis," to speak common sense.
"We're rooting for [Mr. Lieberman]," said Edith Ziontz, 77. Mr. Lieberman is qualified and he's Jewish, she said.
"It's a double whammy."

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