Despite advantages, Lieberman struggles

Presidential candidate well-known, experienced but not the front-runner


HARTFORD, Conn. - When Al Gore announced in December that he would not run for president in 2004, few people were as well positioned as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman to become the Democratic standard-bearer.

As the only prospective candidate for the nomination who had run on a national ticket, he had broad name recognition and, as he is fond of saying, he had proved that he can get more votes than George W. Bush.

But in the nine months since Lieberman declared his candidacy, he has struggled to break out of a packed second tier of candidates, overshadowed by the anti-war rhetoric of Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, and the public's infatuation with Gen. Wesley K. Clark.

So although some recent polls have shown him leading President Bush in a theoretical head-to-head battle, those figures are virtually meaningless for a candidate who needs to win over Democratic loyalists in Iowa and New Hampshire. In those states, Lieberman, who represents Connecticut, has been unable to capitalize on his name recognition. He lags in fund raising. His monotone delivery and sometimes too-subtle jokes rarely send listeners into frenzied cheers.

And in a nation that has undergone profound shifts since 2000 - entering a state of perpetual war, with a struggling economy and anxiety about the safety of the country - some voters seem to view Lieberman with far less excitement than they did when Gore selected him as his running mate.

In a sign of concern among campaign officials that Lieberman is not catching on, the candidate plans to reintroduce himself today by embarking from Hartford on a weeklong tour of early primary states, including New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Florida and Michigan.

Calling his tour "Leading With Integrity," Lieberman is seeking to contrast his reputation for probity with what he says is the Bush administration's failure to keep its promises. The campaign will also introduce new policy prescriptions, such as an economic plan that calls for overhauling the tax code and a proposal to create 10 million jobs over four years.

Lieberman insists that he is not worried. "Most of the American people are just tuning into this race, incidentally, as they are catching on to George W. Bush," he said Friday at a campaign stop in North Carolina. Lieberman advisers also said the candidate was hampered by a late fund-raising start because he did not assemble his organization until Gore bowed out. He has lost some of the natural advantage of name recognition that he enjoyed from the 2000 campaign because his relative lack of money has led him to delay introducing television commercials, while many of his rivals have been on the air.

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