Archive for Friday, December 1, 2000

Lieberman tenacious in pursuit of victory

December 1, 2000

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— Even when Democrats were trailing Republicans by 55,000 votes in Florida on election night, when Al Gore was off writing a concession speech, Joe Lieberman was musing about a recount.

Now that the Democrats are a mere 538 votes from victory in Florida, the Democratic senator's conviction that the presidency belongs to Al Gore has only hardened. And the public is glimpsing a Joseph Lieberman altogether different from the joyous, peppy campaigner it saw this fall.

Sweet, affable Joe now is tenacious, outraged Joe. Righteous Joe is resolute. The crinkly corners of his eyes that forever turned up during the campaign, even when he was excoriating George W. Bush's record as Texas governor, seem relentlessly turned down.

Relentlessly smiling Joe is smiling no more.

Around Gore's dining room table, the would-be president's could-be vice president consistently has taken the position that, if every ballot in Florida is counted, the Democrats will win the state and the White House. He has reinforced the certainty Gore already feels, aides said, that this is no time to surrender.

The Connecticut senator, who has stood silently amid the furled flags behind Gore, has played a crucial role in giving the campaign the will to fight on. When strategists such as Warren Christopher and Bill Daley voiced concerns that a prolonged effort might hurt the Democratic Party, Lieberman would hear nothing of it.

"There is the sweet Joe and the tough Joe, and he obviously feels very strongly that we should go forward," said Tom Nides, who has served as Lieberman's campaign manager since the August morning when he became Gore's running mate.

Several aides close to Lieberman said his determination is rooted in how hard he worked to win Florida for the Democratic ticket.

After Labor Day, Lieberman campaigned there on nine separate occasions, spending 13 days traversing the state. And the observant Jewish senator did not limit his appeal to elderly Jews in South Florida.

He worked Latinos in Miami and moderates in the middle of the state. He spoke in black churches in Broward County and walked the pool sides of Palm Beach. He drew crowds of firefighters, sheriff's deputies and students. Lieberman also paid his respects during a private stop at the grave of Jorge Mas Canosa; accompanying him was the late Cuban-American leader's son, an avowed Bush supporter.

Lieberman wooed relentlessly in the Sunshine State, and the day before the election he reassured an adviser: "I know we're going to win there. I just know it."

So, halfway through election night, Lieberman began pondering Florida's recount provision. Later, after Gore left the room to write his concession speech, Lieberman turned to a staff member and said: "If I understand correctly, it's an automatic recount if it's within half of 1 percent, right?"

"It was at that point," Nides said, "I realized what a fighter Joe Lieberman really is."

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