Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) -- a former Democrat turned independent -- made the unusual political move this week of speaking at the Republican National Convention.
In his speech Tuesday evening, Lieberman urged both Democrats and independents to trust his friend, Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), to handle the difficult problems facing America's future.
Lieberman got the key prime-time spot at the RNC rather than President Bush. The purpose of his address in support of the Republican candidate for president was to demonstrate both his and McCain's willingness to put "Country First" -- a McCain campaign slogan -- and to downplay the Democrats' argument that electing McCain to the White House would be the equivalent of giving four more years to Bush.
Lieberman took a real political risk appearing at the Republicans' convention. He was Al Gore's vice presidential candidate in 2000 and ran himself for president as a Democrat in 2004. His pro-war stance irked many Democrats, leading to a tough primary battle in 2006 for Senate.
After Lieberman lost that primary battle to Democrat Ned Lamont, he renounced his party to run as an independent and won in a three-way race.
Lieberman continues to caucus with Democrats, giving them a majority in the Senate, and he chairs the committee on Homeland Security. He almost certainly will lose his committee come next January. Democrats are expected to pick up several Senate seats and will no longer need Lieberman to form a majority.
But Lieberman doesn't seem to care. He spoke about the quality of McCain's character and ability to work across the aisle to bring change in Washington:
"I have personally seen John, over and over again, bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face -- to reform our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws, to create the 9/11 Commission and pass its critical national security reforms, and to end the partisan paralysis over judicial confirmations."
The two men worked together on the "Gang of 14," a group of 14 senators from both parties, to move judicial nominations forward for approval, while maintaining the sanctity of the filibuster in the Senate.
Lieberman told America not to listen to those who present McCain as Bush. He said:
"My Democratic friends know all about John's record of independence and accomplishment. Maybe that's why some of them are spending so much time and so much money trying to convince voters that John McCain is someone else. I'm here, as a Democrat myself, to tell you: Don't be fooled."
Sen. Barack Obama's (D., Ill.) campaign on Tuesday released an ad titled "Same." The ad closes with a clip of McCain bragging that he voted with Bush more than 90% of the time -- more than most Republicans.
Lieberman treaded carefully around the topic of Obama. He lauded the Democratic presidential candidate's gift for eloquence and said he expected big things from the Illinois senator -- just not now. Lieberman argued that the country faces tough times, requiring a resolute leader with a record. He made the Republican crowd clap nervously when he compared McCain to former President Bill Clinton:
"Contrast that to John McCain's record, or the record of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who stood up to some of those same Democratic interest groups and worked with Republicans to get important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget."
He chided Obama for not taking on Democratic interest groups in the Senate and forging compromises across party lines.
Lieberman attacked Obama more forcefully on the Iraq war, though he failed to speak as aggressively as former Democrat Zell Miller did in his infamous speech at the 2004 Republican National Convention against Democratic nominee John Kerry. Lieberman argued that McCain will stand up during difficult times. "Especially at a time of war, we need a president we can count on to fight for what's right for our country -- not only when it is easy, but when it is hard," Lieberman said.
In his closing remarks, Lieberman did not speak to Republicans but aimed at the same swing voters who supported President Bush in the last election:
"So tonight, I ask you whether you are an independent, a Reagan Democrat or a Clinton Democrat, or just a Democrat: This year, when you vote for president, vote for the person you believe is best for the country, not for the party you happen to belong to. Vote for the leader who, since the age of 17, when he raised his hand and took an oath to defend and protect our Constitution, has always put our country first."