Image: Joe Lieberman
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Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., speaks Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.
By M. Alex Johnson Reporter
updated 9/3/2008 12:11:16 AM ET 2008-09-03T04:11:16

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee in 2000, urged Democrats to cross party lines Tuesday night and cast their votes for Sen. John McCain of Arizona, telling they they could “always count on him to be straight with you about where he stands and to stand for what he thinks is right regardless of politics.”

Lieberman, who is now officially an independent but continues to caucus with the Democrats, was addressing delegates at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., but he was really speaking to millions of Democrats watching at home on television.

“What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?” Lieberman asked.

His answer: “I’m here to support John McCain because country matters more than party.”

Lieberman, who was widely reported to have been a finalist to join McCain as his vice presidential running mate, returned to that theme over and over.

“John McCain’s whole life testifies to a great truth: Being a Democrat or a Republican is important. But it is not more important than being an American,”  he said.

Lieberman praised McCain’s support for President Bush’s “troop surge” in Iraq, casting it as a principled stand in the face of widespread popular disagreement.

60 years of the RNC“When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle — when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the ground — John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge, and because of that, today, our troops are at last beginning to come home, not in failure, but in honor,” he was to say.

Lieberman, Thompson bump Bush from spotlight
Lieberman’s address had been highly anticipated at the convention, four years after another official Democrat, Zell Miller, then a senator from Georgia, gave a fiery address at the 2004 Republican convention urging Bush’s reelection.

Lieberman took a less outspoken tack, but he made it clear where he stood: with McCain, whom he has accompanied on foreign trips as an unofficial adviser on foreign affairs.

“Only one leader has shown the courage and the capability to rise above the smallness of our politics to get big things done for our country and our people,” Lieberman said. “And that leader is John McCain.”

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By contrast, Obama, the Democratic nominee, “is a gifted and eloquent young man who can do great things for our country in the years ahead,” he said, “but eloquence is no substitute for a record — not in these tough times.”

Speeches by Lieberman and former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., followed a brief address by President Bush, who spoke to the convention by satellite from the White House. In a break with tradition, the sitting president did not get the marquee speaking slot — during the hour the broadcast television networks were covering the action — reflecting convention organizers’ concern that Bush’s unpopularity could drag down the ticket.

Afterward, in an interview with NBC News, Lieberman repeated that “John McCain is the best choice for president,” but he demurred when asked if McCain’s little-known running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, was ready to take over if disaster struck. “Let’s hope for the best. John is in great shape,” he said.

Palin has provided an unwelcome distraction after her announcement Monday that her unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant and that a private attorney has been retained to represent the governor in an investigation into the dismissal of the state public safety commissioner.

Lieberman said it was initially awkward to be speaking at a Republican convention. But he said, “I didn’t expect my party to take the turns it did, especially on national security and foreign policy.”

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Video: Lieberman: ‘Country matters more’


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