WASHINGTON, August 7 (AP)--Al Gore has selected Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman to be his running mate, rounding out the Democratic ticket with the first Jewish vice presidential candidate in American history, and Lieberman has accepted.
Gore made the offer in a telephone call to Lieberman on Monday.
"It is a special honor to be asked to run for vice president with a man I deeply believe in, Al Gore, and who I think is ready to be a great president," Lieberman said.
Picking the moderate Democrat and self-styled moral crusader as his running mate signals an effort by Gore to win over independent and Republican voters and distance himself from President Clinton's controversies. Lieberman was the first prominent Democratic lawmaker to openly criticize the president's conduct with Monica Lewinsky. Polls show Republican George W. Bush benefiting from the so-called "Clinton fatigue."
Democratic sources said Gore made his decision after discussions late Sunday night and early Monday morning with top advisers, including former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who headed the search process, brother-in-law Frank Hunger, wife Tipper, and campaign chairman Bill Daley.
The vice president and his running mate will appear together at a noontime rally Tuesday in Nashville.
Lieberman, 58, beat out five other finalists: Sens. Evan Bayh of Indiana, John Edwards of North Carolina, John Kerry of Massachusetts, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Shaheen praised the selection as "an excellent choice." She said, "He's a man of strong character and principle, and he really understands the economy we're in."
The Gore campaign hoped Lieberman's selection would be a bold stroke heading into next week's Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. He trails rival Bush in polls after last week's GOP convention.
One Democratic ally said Gore was driven in part by a need to make a pre-convention splash, which Lieberman's religion provides. The source said the vice president has been disturbed by polls giving Bush a double-digit edge and he fears the election will slip away unless he uses this critical two-week period to gain significant ground, particularly among independents and women.
A Democratic centrist, Lieberman will amplify Gore support of fiscal discipline and middle-class tax cuts, the sources said. Gore considers his pick a respected voice of independence and integrity, and the sources drew a contrast with the GOP ticket's ties to special interests.
The sources said Lieberman satisfies Gore's criteria for vice president: He can assume the presidency at a moment's notice, Gore trusts him, and he shares Gore's commitment to fight for American families.
Gore will also contrast the tickets as New Guard vs. Old Guard politics, the sources said.
Some Republicans saw wisdom in the pick.
"I think it's a bold move,"' said GOP consultant Scott Reed, who ran Bob Dole's 1996 campaign against Clinton. "It's a nontraditional pick, and it shows that Gore is going to make the cut from Clinton and say that Clinton's actions the last few years have been unacceptable."
Gore's selection of an Orthodox Jew is a first.
The senator has interpreted this to mean he may still work during that time, but only to promote "the respect and protection of human life and well-being." He has said he will vote on legislation and participate in important meetings on the Sabbath--but won't campaign. He skipped one of his state nominating conventions because it was held on the Sabbath.
While critics brand Lieberman as a liberal who votes for abortion rights, gun control, and tax hikes, Democrats say he's more conservative when it comes to issues such as defense spending and family values.
"This election is a battle for who wins the American middle," said Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle before Gore made his choice. "With the Gore-Lieberman ticket, you see a real opportunity for Democrats to pick it up."
As rumors of a Lieberman pick swirled during the past few months, the senator kept the vow of silence he pledged to Gore, a friend he has called the "most responsible vice president in our history."
Not since John F. Kennedy was elected as the nation's first Catholic president has religion been much of an issue in a White House race. The sources close to Gore noted that Kennedy was nominated 40 years ago in Los Angeles.
Lieberman may have galvanized his role as the conscience of Congress two years ago when he was one of the first senators to criticize Clinton for his tryst with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "Having criticized Clinton gets him points from the other side," said Howard Reiter, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut.
His colleagues agree.
"A lot of problems Gore is having in attracting white men and suburban women come from the connection to the Lewinsky situation," said Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana.
But his condemnation of Clinton's behavior may have been more of a personal move than a political one; he was criticizing a friend. Lieberman and Clinton are Yale Law School graduates, and Clinton worked on Lieberman's state Senate campaign. In 1992, Lieberman returned the favor by being the first politician in the Northeast to endorse the Arkansas native's presidential bid.
In Connecticut, Lieberman has gained admiration from Republican Gov. John G. Rowland, who recently called the senator "a great friend of mine" while endorsing Lieberman's Senate rival.
While Lieberman is allowed 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--and mean Rowland would be able to appoint Lieberman's successor to serve until the next state election in 2002.