Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman issued an unflattering critique of Sen. Barack Obama today, saying the Democratic presidential contender has "no record" of opposing his party and building bipartisan coalitions.
Lieberman, a Connecticut senator and a close ally of Sen. John McCain, made the comments the same day that two former Republican Congress members endorsed Obama. In some of his sharpest criticism to date, Lieberman said the Illinois senator had never stood independently and reached across the aisle during his 3½ years in the Senate.
"If there's one public official who has consistently put his country ahead of his party, working across party lines to get things done in Washington, it is John McCain," Lieberman said in an interview with ABC News. "It's not Barack Obama, with all respect."
Lieberman scoffed at the formation today of Republicans for Obama by former Iowa Rep. Jim Leach and former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, saying it was McCain who had spent a career working with people on both sides -- often at some cost within his own party.
"Sen. Obama has no record that I can see of taking on positions that are held by a lot of people within his own party," Lieberman said. "John McCain does that all the time. It's part of the reason it took some while for a lot of Republicans to come to his side. Sen. McCain has worked across party lines on the big issues of our time because he knows, he has no patience for partisan politics and all those games."
The nascent Republicans for Obama movement won't have Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, who many assumed would be its most prominent potential member. Hagel, rumored to be on Obama's short list of potential vice presidential candidates, will not endorse a candidate in this election, a spokesman told USA Today.
The sharpened emphasis on bipartisanship comes as Democrats and Republicans court independent voters who could hold the keys to the White House.
Lieberman, whom McCain has considered as a running mate, said he was reaching out to Democrats and independents, "who I think may decide this race."
"John McCain is the truly independent candidate in this race," Lieberman said of the Arizona senator.
But Obama and McCain face some peril in bipartisan appeals.
While trying to woo voters in the political middle, McCain risks alienating his Republican base of supporters. If he were to tap Lieberman as the vice presidential candidate, it would enrage a significant segment of the base, especially those opposed to abortion. Lieberman today declined to comment on his own vice presidential prospects, saying he had not discussed it with McCain.
As for Obama., as Lieberman's comments make clear, the Illinois senator invites analysis of a thin bipartisanship record that might not be terribly flattering.
Lieberman's comments came after a town hall rally of McCain supporters at the cavernous York Expo Center. McCain arrived in a highly choreographed appearance that began with his fabled campaign bus, "The Straight Talk Express," driving into the hall as the theme from "Rocky" blasted from loudspeakers.
On stage, McCain and Lieberman joined former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge with whom McCain has been campaigning across the state since Sunday night.
But McCain got a politely delivered, thinly veiled reproach from a conservative in the crowd, who suggested he'd gone too far with the effort to reach out to Democrats.