Center, but not front: Lieberman's quandary
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That humor is never far from the surface. After a grueling morning, beginning with two live TV interviews, a "meet and greet" at a local breakfast spot, a rock-star-like reception and Q & A at Concord High School, followed by a "press availability" and a "one on one" with a local television station - and constant calls between each event - the senator settles into the backseat of a red SUV, clearly exhausted. The first thing he does is take out his BlackBerry and scroll through his messages.Skip to next paragraph
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"That's nice. ''You are and have been in my thoughts,' " he quotes softly from an e-mail.
"From your wife?" a reporter asks.
"That wasn't my wife. I'm always in her thoughts," he says, then pauses. "I hope."
"Be careful; you just got a lot more interesting," his communications director, Jano Cabrera, pipes up.
Lieberman laughs delightedly.
Two days after the Gore announcement, Lieberman's message is clearer than ever. The setback is just a "turn" in "a long road," one that's "doubled my determination to fight for what's right for my party and right for my country. To me, the choice is clear now for the voters in these Democratic primaries," he continues. "Are we going to build on Bill Clinton's record and take our party and country forward, or are we going backward? And I would say, Howard Dean, and now Al Gore, they want to take the country back."
At Robin's Place, a restaurant filled with more Republicans than Democrats, Lieberman is back to the cajoling that's marked his career - reaching out to the other side in search of common ground.
He's as interested in what Republican voters Ralph and Barbara Smallidge think - they stuck around after their bacon and eggs when they heard he was coming - as he is in the thoughts of Charissa Koulovatas, an undecided registered Democratic who's a local waitress.
It's clear he's hoping to convince the Smallidges that he's the John McCain of 2004, the real independent who can unite the parties with integrity.
"Sure, I'm hoping for a little of that McCain magic dust," he admits. He settles into a seat at the counter by Ms. Koulovatas and almost tells her story for her: "You don't have health insurance, do you?"
"No, I don't."
"That's because where you work, they don't give it to you."
"No, they don't."
"And you can't afford it on your salary."
"No, I can't."
"So you're the classic case. This is an outrage. While you're working your way up to something better, the country should give you a hand." The young woman nods, says she'll check out his plan online. The two shake hands.
He moves on to a nearby table, but Koulovatas remains undecided. "I tend not to trust politicians," she says dryly. "But he seems like a nice enough guy."
Lieberman is unruffled: He's done his best. It doesn't bother him that the pundits say he's far too moderate and mild for today's Democrats. In fact, he considers that moderation his greatest strength. "It takes more than anger to be a good president," he says. "It takes strength of character."
And he insists, even now, that the race is wide open: "The real guy who's leading in the polls is a guy named 'Undecided,' '' he likes to say. He's banking on New Hampshire voters to prove his point. Lieberman and his wife are even moving here for the month to ensure that voters don't forget him. "People in New Hampshire ... love to knock down the predictions of the pundits and the pollsters," he says. "So I love this state. Every day I go at it with a real sense of optimism that I can make my case - that I'm the president they need to make this country safe."