NASHVILLE, Tenn., August 7 (AP)--Al Gore, in blue jeans, picked at the oversized fruit platter in his hotel suite and quizzed a team of lawyers about the four senators named on Warren Christopher's neatly labeled, manilla research folders.
What would the unions think of this guy? Is that one 100% for abortion rights? How would so-and-so go over with the environmental groups? Where does he hail from?
And, what about Joe Lieberman being an Orthodox Jew?
Frank Hunger, Gore's brother-in-law, who had piped in only here and there during several hours with shifting groups of advisers, jumped in at that moment, his Mississippi twang at its thickest: "If the country's not ready for it, it damn well should be."
The vice president seconded Hunger's sentiment.
Yes, Lieberman's faith is an asset, agreed campaign chairman William Daley and Christopher, the former secretary of state who headed the search for a No. 2 on Gore's Democratic presidential ticket.
The discussion moved on.
By midnight, Gore told confidantes sitting with him around a dining table: "I'm going to go with Joe."
The senator from Connecticut, choked with emotion, called it "a miracle."
Gore, 52, reached Lieberman at noontime Monday on his cell phone, as a driver ferried him from the Connecticut AFL-CIO convention in Hartford to his New Haven, Conn., driveway.
"Would you be my running mate?"
"I'd be honored," Lieberman said.
"If I send a private jet (with a "Gore for President" poster hastily taped to the fuselage), would you and your family join me for dinner in Nashville tonight?"
"I don't have any better invitations," Lieberman said.
The 58-year-old senator was still in the passenger seat and on the phone when news cameras on stakeout on his front lawn pressed up to the car window. Lieberman flashed them a smiling thumbs-up.
According to two insiders who were present for the deliberations and spoke on condition they not be identified, Gore's midnight decision, kept under wraps until an Associated Press bulletin at 6:51 a.m., followed a sober and orderly series of meetings around the table in his suite on the hotel's cordoned-off 10th floor.
When his wife Tipper and daughter Sarah were stuck at Washington's Reagan National Airport, Gore reached his wife by cell phone at the gate to run the progress by her. He also telephoned daughter Karenna in New York.
Up to the final hour--after Mrs. Gore finally arrived and had her turn questioning Christopher and the lawyers, Gore asked questions about each contender. Washington attorney Jim Hamilton led the legal team and had vetted finalists Lieberman, of Connecticut, Evan Bayh of Indiana, John Edwards of North Carolina, and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Top aides, including consultant Tad Devine and campaign manager Donna Brazile, were brought in at one point to offer their counsel. Sarah Gore quietly took it all in.
In the lobby, where reporters awaited clues to any decision, aides shut out of Gore's deliberation continued to talk up the charismatic Edwards as the dream candidate.
It wasn't until the upstairs suite emptied of all but the family, plus Daley, Christopher and campaign communications director Mark Fabiani that Gore's questions and comments zeroed in on Lieberman.
Gore "had asked all the questions that, in the end, satisfied him that the decision he already had in mind was the right one," said one insider.
Lieberman had well-positioned boosters.
Hunger, who has been the loyal confidante at Gore's side on the trail since his 1992 campaign with Bill Clinton, appeared to be rooting for Lieberman. So did top strategist Carter Eskew, who worked on Lieberman's 1988 Senate race.
On six hours of sleep, Gore went about a normal routine Monday--the treadmill, breakfast with Mrs. Gore, pecking at his laptop on his Aug. 17 convention speech--while the morning news shows buzzed about Lieberman.
Gore took his time popping the question to the man of the hour and, later, calling to let President Clinton know. Gore also called the passed-over finalists.
But first, there was an interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw at a nearby soda shop. Gore dismissed polls showing that his deficit to GOP rival George W. Bush has deepened since last week's Republican National Convention. Gore gets his turn on in the spotlight when Democrats convene Aug. 14 in Los Angeles.
Then, it was off to a staged stroll with Brokaw through the Vanderbilt University campus and, finally, the call to Lieberman. They said a brief prayer together.
As Lieberman put it, "You've got to praise God for blessings."
Monday evening, Liberman flew to Nashville for dinner with the Gores, bringing his wife Hadassah, his mother Marsha, two of his four children--Hana, 12, and Matthew, 33--and daughter-in-law April.