- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sen. Joe Lieberman has changed his tune on Barack Obama.

After campaigning across the country for Republican John McCain in 2008 and attacking Mr. Obama as naive, untested and unwilling to take on powerful special interests, Mr. Lieberman now showers praise on the popular new Democratic president.

“He’s shown real leadership,” Mr. Lieberman told the Associated Press in an interview. “Bottom line: I think Barack Obama, president of the United States, is off to a very good start.”

The Connecticut independent, who faces re-election in 2012 in a state where Mr. Obama is popular, is eager to mend fences with Democrats still fuming over his criticism of Mr. Obama during the general election campaign.

Mr. Lieberman has applauded Mr. Obama’s national security team. He gushed over Mr. Obama’s “inspirational and unifying” inaugural. Mr. Lieberman even played a key role helping Mr. Obama win Senate passage of the economic stimulus plan.

As if to underscore the point, Mr. Lieberman has even clashed on the Senate floor with Mr. McCain over the stimulus plan and a D.C. voting rights bill.

“I don’t think of Joe as the independent, I really think of Joe as a Democrat,” said Mr. Lieberman’s home state colleague, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat.

It’s a striking turnaround from the days when Mr. Lieberman was a fixture at Mr. McCain’s side during campaign stops. Mr. McCain had even considered making Mr. Lieberman, who nearly won the vice presidency on the Democratic ticket with Al Gore in 2000, his running mate.

“Do I think it is more principle or politics?” said Quinnipiac University Poll director Doug Schwartz of Mr. Lieberman’s moves. “It is a tough question.”

Mr. Lieberman’s campaigning for Mr. McCain hurt him with Connecticut voters, particularly Democrats, Mr. Schwartz said.

Connecticut’s Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is mentioned as a possible 2012 Senate Democratic candidate, would beat Mr. Lieberman by 28 points in a hypothetical matchup, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed.

Mr. Lieberman scoffed at any suggestion his embrace of Mr. Obama is more about political expediency than principle.

“I haven’t changed … I’ve always had a voting record that is more with the Democrats than with the Republicans,” he said.

Many Democrats still chafe at how Mr. Lieberman needled Mr. Obama during his Republican National Convention speech with the line “eloquence is no substitute for a record.”

Or when Mr. Lieberman cast the race as a choice between “one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not. Between one candidate who’s a talker, and the other candidate who’s the leader America needs as our next president.”

Mr. Lieberman said he understands why he struck a nerve with Mr. Obama’s backers.

“We were in the middle of a campaign and we just plain disagreed … When I said those things not only did I believe them, but I believe looking at the records of the two people then, they were right,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Lieberman said he never meant to suggest that Mr. Obama did not put his country first. Mr. Lieberman said his words were “too subject” to that interpretation and that he wishes he had spoken more clearly.

After the election at Mr. Obama’s urging, Senate Democrats decided not to punish Mr. Lieberman. They voted to let him keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Mr. Obama was eager to strike a bipartisan tone for his presidency.

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