ST. PAUL -- Eight years after he accepted the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic convention, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, the featured speaker Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention, made the case for Republican candidate John McCain.
"I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party," Lieberman said. "I am here tonight for a simple reason, because John McCain's whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is nowhere near as important as being an American."
Lieberman was cheered by the crowd in the Xcel Energy Center, but there was little of the overwhelming emotion that greeted him — and that he displayed — at the 2000 convention when he became Al Gore's running mate, the first Jewish candidate nominated by a major party for national office. In his speech that night, Lieberman called McCain "my dear friend" and said he was "in our prayers in this hall tonight." The Arizona senator was battling skin cancer at the time.
This time, Lieberman criticized the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, on the Iraq war.
"When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground, John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge," Lieberman said. "And because of that, today, our troops are at last beginning to come home, not in failure, but in honor."
Lieberman's support of the war prompted a bitter primary in 2006. After losing the Democratic nomination, he won a fourth Senate term as what he calls an "independent Democrat." Still, his vote has given Democrats their narrow Senate majority for the past two years.
Showcasing supporters from the other party isn't unusual in national politics, but it is rare for someone who has been nominated on a national ticket to do so. The most recent precedent: New York Gov. Al Smith, the Democrats' 1928 presidential nominee who by 1936 was opposing Franklin Roosevelt's re-election.
Democrats reacted to Lieberman's speech with scorn and bewilderment. "One word to describe it would probably have to be surreal," Democratic consultant Peter Fenn says.