In the spring of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry made overtures to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, to be his running mate.
A Kerry-McCain ticket had a compelling logic: it would have given Kerry a chance to outflank President Bush, to win some Republican voters, and to carry McCain’s state of Arizona and its ten electoral votes.
Will McCain, now a leading contender for the 2008 GOP nomination, borrow Kerry’s idea and offer the vice presidency to Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut’s self-styled “independent Democrat”?
The McCain-Lieberman duo showed a warm camaraderie Friday during their joint appearance at the American Enterprise Institute, an event where they both called for a substantial increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq in order to impose order, stop ethnic cleansing, and give the Maliki government a chance to succeed.
Praise for McCain's 'gutsy position'
Lieberman lavished praise on his Arizona ally. Alluding to his own re-election victory in Connecticut over anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, Lieberman said, “I just finished an election campaign. If rumors are correct, he may be starting one. And he’s not taking the easy way out here.”
McCain, he said, “is doing what he sincerely believes is best for the national security and safety of our country… John’s taking a gutsy position.”
There’s an affinity of personnel, as well as of ideology, between the Arizona Republican and the Connecticut Democrat: McCain’s spokesman in 2004, Marshall Wittmann, now works as Lieberman’s spokesman.
The McCain-Lieberman duo has worked closely in the past on several issues:
- In 2003, they co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act to limit emissions of global warming gases by electric utilities, industrial firms, and refineries.
- They were leading members of the “Gang of 14,” the bipartisan group of senators who devised a way to avert a fight over judicial filibusters that would have shut down the Senate in 2005.
- They have been two of the prime movers in Senate efforts to restrict donations to political campaigns.
- The duo led the push for military intervention by the United State in Kosovo in 1998.
“Joe Lieberman and John McCain's moral leadership in Congress helped make it possible for Wesley Clark to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo,” said Jano Cabrera in January of 2004, when he was Lieberman’s’ campaign spokesman.
So what would Cabrera think now of a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008?
Would voters back a hawkish ticket?
"With the caveat that it's far too early for this type of speculation, birds of a feather do flock together,” Cabrera said. “And in a nation as politically polarized as ours, a bi-partisan maverick ticket could be incredibly formidable. But before we all start counting our independent chickens, there would also be a significant downside: a pro-war, pro-surge ticket. Barring a radical turn of events in Iraq, I can't imagine 'Vote Hawk' serving as an effective rallying cry in ‘08.”
He added wryly, “Before the imaginary general election comes the real primary. Since Sen. Lieberman hasn't declared he's running, talk of him picking McCain as his running mate is premature.”
One prominent Democrat, Maryland Democratic Party chairman Terry Lierman, had a joking response to the notion of a McCain-Lieberman ticket: “Does McCain need Lieberman to attract Republican votes?”
In a serious vein, he said, "The American people will be looking for a ticket that brings positive change…A damaged senator — as much as I like him — and an Iraq War hawk — as popular as he might be otherwise — might not be the change we’re looking for."
Dante Scala, who teaches political science at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, said a McCain-Lieberman pairing “would most likely not pan out for three reasons.”
The first, he said is that Lieberman is a Democrat and “it would anger a good part of the Republican Party faithful” if McCain passed over a qualified Republican in order to pick Lieberman as his running mate.
The age liability
The second problem as Scala sees it, is Lieberman’s age (he’ll be 65 next month) which combined with McCain’s age (70) would create an Older Guys ticket.
“Then they’ve got a problem if there’s a clear generational choice” if the Democrats were to nominate a relative youngster such as Sen. Barack Obama, the 45-year old junior senator from Illinois.
Third, Scala said, “I don’t know if this ticket would attract many committed Democrats to vote for McCain.”
But if McCain were to roll the dice, Lieberman would give him a better chance to win Connecticut, with its seven electoral votes.
And Lieberman’s appeal to Jewish voters could make a difference in states with significant Jewish populations such as Florida.
Brandeis University historian Jonathan Sarna, who has studied voting history of Jewish voters, said, “The 2006 election in Connecticut demonstrated that Lieberman still commands a significant Jewish following, but not as strong a following as he enjoyed in 2000. Lieberman's support of the Iraq war, his views on religion in public life, and his endorsement of Republican efforts to prevent the removal of Terri Schiavo's feeding tube distanced him from some Jewish voters.”
TV network exit polls Lieberman got 65 percent of self-identified Jewish voters in Connecticut last November.
“My guess is that the Connecticut results anticipate how a McCain-Lieberman ticket would be viewed by the Jewish community,” Sarna said. “At least at third of Jewish voters would find the ticket insufficiently liberal and would vote against it. Whether the ticket could command two-thirds of the Jewish vote depends on who the other candidates are.”