The populist themes that Al Gore struck during the 2000 presidential campaign conflicted with the Democrats' pro-growth stands, his former running mate complains.

"The people versus the powerful theme was too subject to misunderstanding and not representative" of the economic growth that occurred during the 1990s under President Clinton and Vice President Gore, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said on Fox News Sunday.

The populist approach, he said, was "also not expressive of the fiscally responsible, pro-growth, grow-the-middle-class campaign we were running" that included targeted tax cuts and other centrist proposals championed by the Democratic Leadership Council.

Lieberman, the former vice presidential nominee, responded to a guest column by Gore in Sunday's New York Times that was critical of centrist Democrats' view that his approach made it harder to attract middle-class swing voters.

Gore took issue with what he called "the suggestion from some in our party that we should no longer speak the truth. ... This struggle between the people and the powerful was at the heart of every major domestic issue of the 2000 campaign and is still the central dynamic of politics in 2002."

Despite their differences, Lieberman reiterated that he will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 if Gore seeks a rematch with President Bush.

"Out of gratitude and out of friendship for the extraordinary opportunity that Al gave me to run with him in 2000, I've said that I will not run if he runs, and I will not," he said.

Lieberman said he does not reject Gore's populism in total, particularly in light of repeated recent instances of corporate wrongdoing and shady accounting practices.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Gore's focus on "old class warfare" was a major reason the Democrats no longer hold the White House. "It was the old, failed politics that helped him lose that last election," Lott said on ABC's This Week.

On the same program, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Gore, Lieberman and other Democrats should concentrate on the economy and issues such as retirement security in the fall congressional campaigns.

"You know, the president has said that you could describe his ... economic plan in one word, jobs. Well, we've lost 1.7 million jobs since this administration took office. So that's where we have to put our focus," Daschle said.