Gore economic tack factor in 2000 loss, Lieberman suggests

Populist approach may have alienated middle class, he says

July 29, 2002|By Jules Witcover | Jules Witcover,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, suggested last night that former Vice President Al Gore's use of "economic populism" in 2000 campaign speeches could have been one of the factors that cost the Democratic ticket the election.

"In an election as close as that one was," he said after a meeting with reporters at a Democratic Leadership Council gathering here, "there were a lot of factors, and that was probably one of them."

Lieberman continued to vow that he will not seek the 2004 Democratic nomination if Gore runs and said he will support him if he does. But he said Gore, as the party's presidential nominee, may have sent the wrong signal to middle-class voters by saying such things as "we're for the people, they're for the powerful" in referring to the Republican opposition.

Lieberman said that as the 2000 vice presidential nominee "I never used that term." He suggested such comments were not the pro-business approach Gore had followed through his political career and may have made it more difficult for their ticket to get the middle-class and independent vote.

Such remarks, he told the reporters, were not a "logical" reflection of Gore's record in the Senate as a "New Democrat" who has supported the pro-business, pro-growth philosophy that is the bedrock of the Democratic Leadership Council of which Gore is a former chairman.

Nevertheless, Lieberman did not budge from his pledge after the election that while exploring the possibility of seeking the 2004 presidential nomination, he will abandon it if Gore decides to run. He reiterated that Gore, at a recent dinner with him, said he was undecided about another White House bid, and it was a "50-50 matter."

Lieberman conceded that the longer Gore stays on the fence, the more difficult it will be for Lieberman's situation and said he told Gore "the sooner he decided the better. ... I trust he will make a decision in a timely way." Asked what he would do if Gore released him from his pledge, Lieberman said, "I hadn't thought of that."

The Connecticut senator, also a former DLC chairman, said that if he ran he "intended to be the New Democrat candidate in the race," under the same label that President Bill Clinton won two terms in the Oval Office.

Lieberman's observations came in the context of stating his view that although the Democratic Party must be tough on wrongdoers in the corporate corruption scandal that has rocked Wall Street, it must not be perceived as waging an economic class conflict or engaging in an anti-business crusade.

DLC members who are pro-business and pro-economic growth have a "special responsibility to be very tough and unforgiving on those who have not exercised responsibility" in the corporate business fiasco, he said.

He said Democrats were much quicker to respond to the scandal than President Bush and other Republican leaders and suggested that fact was "not without consequences" for the Republicans in a congressional election year.

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