Al Gore made history today, tapping Sen. Joseph Lieberman as his running mate, the first time in U.S. history that a Jewish person has run on a national ticket. Lieberman called the pick “a miracle.”
The Connecticut senator, in New Haven, accepted the offer while speaking to the vice president via cell phone.
“It’s a special honor to be asked to run for vice president by a man I deeply believe in,” Lieberman had said earlier.
With most of the speculation centering on other candidates late Sunday, Lieberman said he went to bed “convinced” that he “had no chance to get it.”
But, he said, “Miracles happen … I consider this a miracle for which I’m grateful.”
Though he has served just two terms in the Senate, Lieberman already wields significant influence, largely due to his level-headed ability to work across party lines. But the 58-year-old Yale graduate doesn’t always walk in lock step with the Democrats and, in fact, was one of the harshest critics of President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Back then, he had lambasted Clinton for being “immoral” and “harmful.” Today, Lieberman praised the Clinton administration as “strong, steady, progressive and humane.”
Picking this centrist signals an effort by Gore to win over independents and to distance himself from Clinton’s controversies.
On Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., the president today lavished praise on Lieberman, referring to him as “a friend of mine for 30 years.” Clinton refused to answer questions about the Connecticut senator’s past criticism of his morality, saying he did not want to overshadow Lieberman’s day.
“I think he’s just an extraordinary guy … he’s an amazing person,” Clinton said. “He’s been great for America with what he’s done in the Senate over the last eight years.”
Critics have branded Lieberman as a liberal who votes for abortion rights, gun control and tax hikes. But he is considered more conservative when it comes to issues such as defense spending and family values. He once teamed up with former Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett in a campaign against violence and obscene entertainment.
In Connecticut, Lieberman has gained admiration from Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, who recently called the senator “a great friend of mine.”
While Lieberman said he plans 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. That would leave Rowland to appoint Lieberman’s successor to serve until the next state election in 2002.
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.
Even before he got the call, Lieberman began taking shots at Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush.
“Look at what Governor Bush is proposing,” Lieberman said in a speech to the state AFL-CIO in Hartford. “Instead of saving Social Security, he’s on a course to savage it with a privatization scheme that would take $1 trillion out of the nest egg that belongs to every worker in America, and jeopardize the program stability and the security of the working future of the American people.”
Gore’s selection of an Orthodox Jew is a first for a major-party ticket in the United States.