Gore, Lieberman prepare for public debut of Democratic ticket
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Vice President Al Gore and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- Gore's choice to become the Democratic vice presidential nominee -- are likely to spend Monday evening at the Gore campaign headquarters in Nashville planning the official rollout of the 2000 party ticket, following Lieberman's agreement to join Gore earlier in the day.
Lieberman, escorted by members of Gore's campaign, departed for Nashville late Monday afternoon. Gore and Lieberman will make a joint appearance there at 1 p.m. EDT on Tuesday afternoon.
Gore asked Lieberman to be his running mate earlier Monday in a brief telephone call. The Connecticut junior senator immediately accepted.
Speaking with reporters as he left his New Haven home, Lieberman said, "The vice president asked me if I would do him the honor of running with him. I told him it was my honor."
"We prayed a little bit together," Lieberman said of the end of their phone conversation.
While a joyful Lieberman spilled the beans, Gore remained cagey with reporters in Tennessee on Monday afternoon, saying only that his choice for a running mate would "join me in fighting for the people, and not the powerful."
Just prior to addressing the yearly convention of the Connecticut chapter of the AFL-CIO on Monday morning, Lieberman told reporters he felt honored to be the choice of "a man I deeply respect, Al Gore, and who, I think, is ready to be one of America's great presidents."
Delivering his pro-labor speech to union members, a beaming Lieberman had said at the time that the call from Gore "hasn't come yet," but could not conceal that Monday was the most "momentous time" of his life.
"All I know honestly at this moment is what I have heard on the media," Lieberman said, adding, "This is an extraordinary day. I am grateful to God and to so many people who have been helpful to me."
On the attack
With his "thank yous" for the support of Connecticut's labor community dispensed with, Lieberman quickly shifted into high gear and assumed the mantle of a vice presidential candidate, targeting the Republican ticket of Texas Gov. George W. Bush and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney -- as well as the Republican-controlled Congress.
The Congress, he said, is responsible for blocking minimum wage hikes, the implementation of a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, and for curtailing workers' rights and protections.
Bush, he added, would leverage the future and pamper the rich with his five-year, $483 billion tax cut proposal, and his plan to allow individuals to invest portions of their Social Security payroll taxes into the stock market.
"If that is their idea of compassion, I'd hate to see their idea of contempt," he said.
"We have to decide what the choice is, which leader and which party is best able to build on our tremendous prosperity and progress. Ladies and gentlemen, this contest is no contest. The right choice is Al Gore and the Democratic Party in the year 2000."
Commenting on last week's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Lieberman said that though the Republican Party sought to cast itself as more centrist, "all they did was pay lip service to some genuine human needs across our country."
In Austin, Bush offered a curt "no comment" when asked of the Lieberman choice. But his chief spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Lieberman was "a good man," before getting a dig in at Gore.
"It's nice that the vice president picked someone who agreed with Governor Bush on so many issues," Fleischer said, in reference to Lieberman's philosophical breaks with the Democratic Party on issues such as school vouchers.
Another Bush aide heaped praise on Lieberman. "Part of changing the tone," the aide said, "is to honor a good man when a good man is selected." Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, the aide continued, "respect Lieberman highly. He is intelligent and has a lot of integrity."
Lieberman addresses the Connecticut chapter of the AFL-CIO
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, would be the first Jewish candidate for vice president from a major party.
He was one of the first senators -- and one of the few of his party -- to take to the Senate floor to openly chastise President Clinton for his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair, and is someone known for his moral rectitude.
One of the Democratic sources said Monday that the choice of Lieberman is intended to help make the ticket more appealing to independents and swing voters who favor Clinton's policies, but were turned off by his personal conduct.
But Lieberman's criticism of Clinton's behavior may have been more of a personal move than a political one; he was chastising a friend. Lieberman and Clinton are Yale Law School graduates, and Clinton worked on Lieberman's state Senate campaign. In 1992, Lieberman returned the favor by being the first politician in the Northeast to endorse the Arkansas native's presidential bid.
Monday, while vacationing on Martha's Vineyard, Clinton said he was pleased with the choice of Lieberman, whom he described as a "friend."
"I think he's wonderful," the president said. "He's been a wonderful friend to me. I'm very happy about Joe Lieberman."
"He's a bold thinker, he's always full of new ideas." Clinton said. "And he's supported the changes that we've made over the last eight years that have turned America around and moved America forward. I think he's just an extraordinary guy... I like him."
White House aides said Gore telephoned president Clinton in Edgartown, Massachusetts, late Monday morning to tell him he had settled on a running mate.
"Joe Lieberman represents a new guard of leadership," said one Gore source. "Senator Lieberman has a national reputation of integrity and independence. Lieberman and Gore share the same values."
Lieberman, 58, served as Connecticut's attorney general prior to defeating Republican Lowell Weicker to claim his seat in Congress' upper chamber. He is currently running for re-election to his Senate seat, and under Connecticut state law, could opt to keep his Senate campaign active while simultaneously running for the number two slot on the Democratic ticket.
Members of his immediate family seemed blindsided by the news. "I'm overwhelmed by this incredible moment in time and history and the history of my family and the history of many immigrants throughout the country," said Hadassah Lieberman, the senator's wife.
According to a Washington Post report, Hadassah Lieberman is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.
Looking to make a bold stroke
Democratic sources said Lieberman satisfies Gore's criteria for vice president: He can assume the presidency at a moment's notice; Gore trusts him; and he shares Gore's commitments on key issues
The sources said Gore made his decision after discussions late Sunday night and early Monday morning with top advisers, including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who headed up his vice presidential search team; his brother-in-law, Frank Hunger; his wife, Tipper; and campaign chairman Bill Daley.
Lieberman beat out five others on Gore's "short list:" Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts; House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri; and New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Kerry was among the first to react to the news.
"In my friend and colleague, Joe Lieberman, Vice President Al Gore has chosen a running mate who represents the best of all possible qualifications -- a proven leader with experience," Kerry said in a written statement.
Gephardt, who has said in public that he would prefer to stay in the House of Representatives -- hoping to become speaker should the Democrats gain control of the chamber this year -- said Lieberman would make an "excellent vice president."
"Senator Lieberman's selection is a tribute to Al Gore's wisdom and vision and a welcome contrast to the highly partisan, right-wing politics of the Republican ticket," Gephardt said in a statement. "Mr. Lieberman has distinguished himself as an independent thinker who's well-respected on both sides of the aisle."
The Gore campaign hoped Lieberman's selection would be a bold stroke heading into next week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Gore trails his Republican rival in polls after last week's GOP convention.
One Democratic ally said Gore was driven in part by a need to make a pre-convention splash, which Lieberman's religion provides. The source said the vice president has been disturbed by polls giving Bush a double-digit edge, and that he fears the election will slip away unless he uses this critical two-week period to gain significant ground, particularly among independents and women.
Because Lieberman observes the Jewish Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, the senator is ostensibly prohibited from working during that period.
Lieberman has interpreted this to mean he may still work during that time but only to promote "the respect and protection of human life and well-being." He has said he will vote on legislation and participate in important meetings on the Sabbath -- but won't campaign. He skipped one of his state nominating conventions because it was held on the Sabbath.
Not since John F. Kennedy was elected as the nation's first Catholic president has religion been much of an issue in a White House race.
The battle for the middle
Picking the moderate Democrat and self-styled moral crusader as his running mate signals an effort by Gore to win over independent and Republican voters and distance himself from Clinton's controversies.
While critics brand Lieberman as a liberal who votes for abortion rights, gun control and tax hikes, Democrats say he's more conservative when it comes to issues such as defense spending and family values.
"This election is a battle for who wins the American middle," Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle, D-South Dakota, said before Gore made his choice. "With the Gore-Lieberman ticket, you see a real opportunity for Democrats to pick it up."
Although he carved a niche for himself as a liberal reformer during his 10 years as a state senator, Lieberman's move to the middle potentially makes him appealing to Republican voters as well as politicians, some say.
In Connecticut, Lieberman has gained admiration from Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, who recently called the senator "a great friend of mine" while endorsing Lieberman's Senate rival.
As state attorney general in the 1970s, Lieberman focused on consumer rights issues. His Senate record on the environment, education, defense, foreign affairs and economic development are cited by his advocates in Gore's inner circle.
While Lieberman is allowed to continue his Senate race while campaigning with Gore, a promotion to vice president would require resignation from the Senate -- assuming he is re-elected -- and mean Rowland would be able to appoint Lieberman's successor.
CNN's Chris Black, Patty Davis, John King, Ian Christopher McCaleb, Shannon Troetel, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.