STAMFORD, Conn. - Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut declared his candidacy for president yesterday, vowing a centrist, values-based campaign to win the White House and safeguard the country from the twin threats of terrorism and economic woe.
"The American dream is in danger, threatened by hate-filled terrorists and tyrants from abroad and a weak economy that makes it harder to live a better life here at home," the Democrat said in a speech at Stamford High School, his alma mater.
"I am a candidate for president of the United States," Lieberman, 60, said to cheers from friends and family, including his 88-year-old mother. "I have the strength, the values and the vision to lead our nation to a higher and safer ground."
He said he didn't believe his Jewish faith would hurt his chances; he would be the country's first Jewish president if elected. And he said he would run a different and, by implication, better campaign than the one Vice President Al Gore ran in 2000 for president, when Lieberman was Gore's vice-presidential running mate.
Lieberman is the fifth Democrat to jump into the race. He joins former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and John Kerry of Massachusetts in a race for the party nomination.
Others weighing a campaign include Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Bob Graham of Florida, retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
Lieberman enters the race with distinct differences from the pack, most of which he hopes will feed an image of a man of character who is above partisan politics.
"I intend to talk straight to the American people, and to show them that I am a different kind of Democrat," Lieberman said. "I will not hesitate to tell my friends when I think they are wrong and to agree with my opponents when I think they are right."
For example, he supports the use of tax-financed vouchers to help poor families escape failing public schools and attend private schools, a position that teachers unions oppose.
In an interview in the dining room of his mother's modest home in Stamford, a suburb of New York, Lieberman noted that he has criticized the entertainment industry, a major source of contributions to Democratic campaigns. And though he didn't mention it, Lieberman was the first in his party to criticize former President Bill Clinton for lying to cover up an extramarital affair with a White House intern.
Asked to specify how he is different from most Democrats, Lieberman noted his stands on war and the economy.
"I have consistently supported a strong defense, our men and women in uniform, and the use of our mighty American military to protect our security and advance our values, in the gulf war, in Bosnia, in Kosovo and now again in Iraq," he said.
He added that he rejects the corporate bashing often popular in his party. He noted that his proposal to stimulate the economy includes a break on capital-gains taxes, for example. "You can't be pro-jobs and anti-business," he said.
He spoke warmly of Gore as a friend and said he hoped to earn Gore's endorsement. Alone among Democrats, he had promised not to run if Gore did.
Yet he has criticized the way Gore ran the 2000 campaign. And Lieberman and his advisers are aware that Gore suffered in 2000 when he was perceived as unprincipled and too ready to reinvent himself to court public approval. "I promise you this," Lieberman said yesterday in a thinly veiled contrast to Gore's campaign, "I will always know exactly who I am and what I stand for."
Lieberman said he would refrain from campaigning on the Sabbath but said his faith wouldn't prevent him from carrying out crucial political duties. "I do distinguish between political campaigning and public responsibility," he said.
He said he didn't encounter anti-Semitism in 2000 and didn't expect it now. "The American people are too smart, too aware of how tough the times are, to judge a candidate for president on anything other than his or her record, ability, ideas and values," he said.
But he also said he would never hide his faith. "My faith is at the center of who I am," he said. "I'll not hesitate to talk about faith when it is relevant or invoke God's name when it comes naturally out of me. ... If the spirit moves me occasionally to say a word or two of faith, I think it's a very American thing to do."