Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2002 / 14 Teves, 5763
Lieberman the frontrunner
The man most advantaged by Al
Gore's withdrawal from the 2004 presidential race is his
former running mate - Sen. Joseph Lieberman.
Lieberman, who had vowed not to run if Gore did, can
now step into the race and will likely be the initial leader in
the polls. The surveys before Gore withdrew had
Lieberman leading the rest of the pack; the former vice
president's departure can only add to this initial lead.
The Connecticut senator could have a big edge in the '04
contest. The independent vote, which was split between
McCain and Bradley in the 2000 primaries, will now be
concentrated in the Democratic primary (since there will be
no GOP contest). This vote, notoriously moderate, is not
likely to back a liberal like Sen. John Kerry, but will
probably be much more supportive of a centrist like
Inside the tall, well-groomed Massachusetts senator is a
small Mike Dukakis trying to be heard. Kerry also has
problems with his wife and her money. Their often
tempestuous relationship (and her references to the late
Sen. John Heinz as "my husband") are going to make very
good copy. That red spot on his chest is not blood - it's
Joe Lieberman grows on you. He is probably the single
best example of integrity in the Senate. When he stood up
and criticized Clinton's behavior during the Lewinsky mess,
everybody listened hard.
And the very fact that Lieberman kept his promise and did
not run while Gore was considering his options speaks well
of him. How many other politicians would feel morally
obliged not to challenge the man who had chosen them to
run for vice president?
Lieberman's base and Gore's are quite different; a Gore
candidacy would do no more injury to Lieberman than to
any other contender. But the Connecticut senator felt it
would be unethical of him to have run if Gore ran.
"Unethical": a word most politicians couldn't even
Lieberman is too klutzy to seem phony. He comes across
as a mensch - a real person rather than a media-groomed,
airbrushed, charismatic superstar.
He seems like a man of conscience because he is one. He
is willing to take unpopular positions and he often does.
The public may be looking for a man they can trust - and
they'll like what the see in Lieberman.
Neither Sen. Tom Daschle nor Rep. Dick Gephardt will
last long once the primaries start. No legislative leader has
ever been elected president in his own right. Dole tried in
1996, LBJ in 1960, Taft in 1952, and Gingrich flirted with
the idea in 2000. The compromises and deals one has to
make - and the constant public partisanship - do not wear
well on the voters. Both Democratic leaders have very high
negatives in most polls.
This race will likely come down to three senators: Kerry,
John Edwards (D-N.C.) and Lieberman. In that contest,
Lieberman's integrity, stability and centrism could make all
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Dick Morris