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'Mr. Clean' lifts Gore campaign

Choosing Lieberman as VP has given the ticket a boost. He speaks tonight.

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Democrats, in turn, point out that, while Lieberman is aligned with the centrist New Democrat movement, he has a record of voting with his party most of the time. He lines up with the liberal Americans for Democratic Action 80 percent of the time.

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On the issue of judging Clinton's behavior in office, Lieberman has avoided direct condemnations since being tapped by Gore. And therein lies a problem for the senator: that he has set himself up as a paragon of virtue, and now runs the risk of appearing like a mere politician as he plays loyal running mate to Gore.

Democrat Ryan Karben, a Rockland County lawmaker in New York and an Orthodox Jew like Lieberman, sees an additional risk from his own experience - that the senator might come across as sanctimonious. "There's a fine line between talking about values and preaching," says Mr. Karben, a Gore supporter who attended law school with Gore's daughter Karenna. "I don't think the American people are looking for someone to preach to them. They're looking for someone to set goals for the nation."

AMONG the party faithful at the Staples Center, many chafe at the notion that Gore could use a boost from Lieberman in the moral-credentials department. "He doesn't need anyone to provide him with moral cover," says Stella Adams, a delegate from Durham, N.C., whose stovepipe hat is wallpapered with political buttons from three previous conventions. "Lieberman only reinforces his character and his strengths."

But others, like Becky Wynkoop of Lake Wales, Fla., believe Lieberman helps the Democrats shake a perception that the party is lax on values. "So many people think if you're a Democrat you don't have religion," says Ms. Wynkoop, her face framed by drooping donkey ears. Lieberman, because of "what he stands for," helps brings moral credibility to the ticket, she says. "His faith is very important."

Outside the convention hall, though, the question may not be whether Lieberman has elevated Gore, but whether he has diminished himself by signing on to support Clinton's loyal second. Sarajane Schwartz, an independent voter in Hollywood, had already decided to vote for Mr. Bush - she calls it a vote against Gore - when Lieberman joined the ticket. While she herself is Jewish, her decision remains firm.

"It's important to make a statement, particularly for young people, that Clinton's behavior is not acceptable," says Mrs. Schwartz, the mother of two adolescents. "The Democratic Party supported him.... No one resigned. Lieberman made a strong point, but didn't vote to convict and didn't say much after he spoke."

Ultimately, Clinton and Lieberman will be working on the same cause for the next three months: to get Al Gore elected. Clinton will campaign in core Democratic areas, a constituency that Gore still hasn't locked in as much as he would like. Lieberman will be used to help Gore woo moderate voters.

On political talk shows this week, Lieberman made clear that he defines his role as a vice-presidential candidate the same way Gore defined it when he was in that position - that is, loyal to the presidential nominee.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society