- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000


Vice President Al Gore's decision to choose Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate is seen as a reaction to growing signs that character and integrity in the Oval Office will be a paramount issue in the fall presidential campaign.

Mr. Gore picked the two-term Connecticut senator for one reason and one reason only, Democratic strategists said yesterday: to inoculate himself from attempts by Texas Gov. George W. Bush's campaign to link him with the perjury scandal that led to President Clinton's impeachment and that continues to reverberate among voters in this year's elections.

"Every speech at the Republican National Convention made it clear that the Bush campaign wants this to be a referendum on Bill Clinton in general and his personal life specifically," said Democratic campaign adviser Mary Anne Marsh.

"Joe Lieberman certainly is a great weapon to respond to that attack. He will make the case that Gore is Bill Clinton's partner in the accomplishments of this administration, but he's a very different person" in his private life, Ms. Marsh said.

"Why did he pick him? I think it's an effort to mute the kind of rhetoric and stuff that came out loud and clear from the Republican convention about Clinton" and tying the president to Mr. Gore, said Amy Isaacs of the Americans for Democratic Action.

"Lieberman's selection as vice president sort of cuts the legs out from under that argument," Mrs. Isaacs said.

"His selection clears away any lingering questions planted by George W. Bush over morality and integrity, so that this campaign can be about the pressing everyday challenges working families face," said John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

Mr. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew who heads the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council, is known principally for delivering the first Democratic broadside against Mr. Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which he called "immoral and harmful." He said it demanded "some measure of public rebuke and accountability."

In the end, though, Mr. Lieberman voted against the articles of impeachment to remove Mr. Clinton from office and dropped his demands for a resolution of censure against Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Lieberman defended his votes at the time by saying that the House "managers have failed to convince me with the evidence they have presented that his misbehavior, as charged in the articles of impeachment, makes him a threat to the national interest, and that we can no longer expect the president to govern free of corruption in the nation's best interests."

But with Mr. Bush making "honor and dignity" in the Oval Office a central theme of his campaign, and with Mr. Gore getting beaten in the polls by Mr. Bush among independents and suburban voters, surveys are showing that Mr. Gore is vulnerable on the issue.

Mr. Bush's running mate, Richard B. Cheney, underscored the issue for the Republicans and the nation when he said in his acceptance speech at the GOP's convention in Philadelphia that "as the man from Hope goes home to New York, Mr. Gore tries to separate himself from his leader's shadow. But somehow we will never see one without thinking of the other."

Nevertheless, political pollster John Zogby thinks the Lieberman choice could have "a boomerang effect" on Mr. Gore's campaign.

"I can see Republican soft money having a field day playing Lieberman's speech condemning Clinton and doing a split screen with Al Gore in the Rose Garden calling Clinton the "greatest president in the 20th century," Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Zogby said his polls show that "right now Gore is getting trounced among independents and suburban voters, two groups that put Bill Clinton over the top." There were increasing signs that these independent and swing voters who are driving up Mr. Bush's poll numbers are linking Mr. Gore with the scandals of the past several years.

Yet the question remained whether Mr. Lieberman will be able to defuse that identification in the minds of voters or will remind them of it.

"With Lieberman as his running mate, either this moral stuff comes back and bites Gore in the behind, or it sets the tone for Gore's campaign for independent and swing voters and convinces them that he's morally correct," Mr. Zogby said.

Mr. Gore's decision also was seen as an effort to identify himself with the senator's image as a party centrist to appeal to swing voters in the political middle.

But that immediately set up a thicket of contradictory issues on which he and the vice president apparently do not agree. Mr. Gore opposes the idea of introducing some measure of personal investment accounts into Social Security, but both Mr. Lieberman and the DLC favor such a reform.

Similarly, Mr. Lieberman favors school-choice vouchers, tax-free education savings accounts, boosting anti-missile defenses and capital gains tax cuts ideas that Mr. Gore opposes.

Despite those differences, however, Mr. Lieberman is not the conservative Democrat that much of the news media have portrayed him to be. Liberal voting indexes like the Americans for Democratic Action have given him scores in the 80s over the past two years, while the conservative indexes rate him in the teens or in the single digits.

"Joe Lieberman has a more liberal voting record over his career in the Senate than Gore has," Mrs. Isaacs said. "Lieberman's career score is 77 percent in our index, which is pretty liberal."

But Mr. Lieberman, the first Jewish vice-presidential nominee in U.S. history, was seen as someone who would help Mr. Gore attract Jewish voters in several key states, including California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Florida, where the race between Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore is tight.

For the DLC, however, Mr. Gore's choice of its chairman was a crowning victory over the party's liberal wing, which had been pushing Mr. Gore to name Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Mr. Lieberman's "presence on the Democratic ticket will undoubtedly strengthen its appeal to supporters of Sen. John McCain and other critical swing voters in the fall," said DLC President Al From.

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