August 6--An Orthodox Jewish senator, Joseph Lieberman, has emerged as one of the leading contenders to be Al Gore's vice president, The New York Times reported today.

The newspaper reported that "speculation had narrowed" to Lieberman, who is a senator from Connecticut, as well as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Though Lieberman's religion would undoubtedly become an issue, Kerry and Edwards also have serious drawbacks: Democratic strategists fear that as a liberal senator from Massachusetts, Kerry would be attacked in the same way as Michael Dukakis. Edwards has only been in the Senate for two years and before that was a trial lawyer, one of the least popular professions in America.

The other politicians thought to be in serious consideration are Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, the House Democratic leader; Jeanne Shaheen, the governor of New Hampshire; and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana. Gore has also said there may be a "wild card" candidate.

Three other Jewish candidates had been mentioned earlier--Sen. Diane Feinstein, former treasury secretary Robert Rubin, and Sen. Russ Feingold--but they are not thought to be in serious contention now.

Ed Rendell, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Lieberman would be "a bold and courageous choice," though he added that "I don't think anyone can calculate the effect of having a Jew on the ticket."

In an interview with ABC News, Gore was asked if Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, would face as much or even more prejudice from some voters than a member of another minority group.

"I don't think those old distinctions and categories matter these days, the way they did in the past," Gore replied. "... I think that the day is coming when that'll be completely irrelevant in all of our politics."

Another press report, this one from Associated Press, said Kerry and Edwards are considered by most Gore advisers to be a cut above the rest, though that does not necessarily reflect the vice president's thinking, according to senior aides. A number of them touted Edwards' prospects, going out of their way to say his relative lack of government service would not be a problem. These advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Sunday that Lieberman and Bayh are still in contention.

William Daley, Gore's campaign chairman, said Sunday that all the candidates on Gore's short list are highly qualified.

"They all have their strengths," he said on ABC's "This Week." Daley dismissed any concern that Edwards, elected just two years ago, lacked necessary experience. Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Edwards pales in comparison with Cheney, who has worked in several administrations, including that of former President Bush.

Bayh could strike out against abortion-rights supporters because he opposes a procedure critics call partial-birth abortion.

Daley dismissed such concerns, calling Lieberman "highly capable" and praising Bayh as "one of the stars of the present and the future of the Democratic Party."

"Al Gore believes he's a solid person who proved as governor--in a state that's highly Republican--that he could not only win, but he could govern," Daley said of Bayh, adding that he's a man of character.

Daley refused to drop any hints about leading contenders. Gore, who likes surprises, has been tantalizing reporters with talk of a "wild card" candidate. Advisers, however, say chances are slim that he will choose somebody not on the publicized list.

At a series of Democratic fund-raisers in the Hamptons collecting more than $1.5 million, and in church, Gore commemorated the three-decade-old Voting Rights Act and called for national hate-crimes legislation.

"Just as we passed the Voting Rights Act 35 years ago, so now we should pass a national hate-crimes act into law to embody the principle that most all Americans share--to speak out against the kind of hatred that often erupts into violence," Gore said at Christ Episcopal Church.

Bush opposes such legislation, saying current laws are adequate, despite several high-profile killings, including the dragging death of a black man, James Byrd, in Bush's home state of Texas.

Without mentioning Bush's name, Gore asked at an intimate Southampton fund-raising brunch, "How could people oppose a hate-crimes law in the year of James Byrd's death and Matthew Shepard's death or the others--the Jewish children in Los Angeles, the Hispanic and Asian-American men and women who have been singled out?"

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