WASHINGTON – Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination Monday, saying the American dream was still within reach but that politicians need to get beyond partisan bickering.
Lieberman made the announcement at his alma mater, Stamford High School in Stamford, Conn., from which he graduated in 1960. It was at this school that he first "came to appreciate the miracle of America," said the son of immigrants who worked their way to the middle class.
"It was here that I first understood the power of the promise of America … that no matter who you are or where you start, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can go as far in this country as your God-given talents will take you," he said.
"Some day you might even grow up to run for president of the United States."
Lieberman blasted President Bush and the Republican Party for their "poor economic record, inability to fund education reform," the president's inability to reform the country's health care system and the "slowness" of Bush's response to domestic terrorism threats.
"The American dream has been put into jeopardy over the past two years," said Lieberman, who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000. He said Bush promised during his campaign to come to Washington and change the political atmosphere in a positive way, but "the reality is, the place is more partisan and more polarized than ever."
Lieberman repeatedly said that, if elected, he will "rise above partisan politics" to get an agenda through Congress that will work to the advantage of America's middle class.
"Today, I am ready to rise above partisan politics to fight for what's right for the American people. I am ready to protect their security, revive their economy and uphold their values.
"I am ready to announce today that I am running for president in 2004 and I intend to win," Lieberman told the audience.
Despite the slams on Bush, Lieberman has been known to embrace several issues dear to Republicans, and his supporters hope he will appeal to swing voters. For example, Lieberman sponsored the president's resolution on Iraq, which passed the Senate on a 77-23 vote last October.
"I think this is one of those times where you do have to rise above partisanship and put your country's security first," Lieberman said.
He said many Americans likely think the United States could have done more to stop Usama bin Laden, and now this country should do more to make sure the same sentiment isn't someday felt toward Saddam Hussein.
Lieberman said he thinks Bush needs to be just as aggressive in his agenda toward Iraq as he was toward Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups abroad.
"I'm going to support [Bush] so long as that is so," Lieberman said.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, has earned the admiration of morality czar William Bennett, who issues the "Silver Sewer Awards" for offensive media content, and has annoyed Hollywood with demands for greater responsibility from movie and television studios and stronger ratings systems.
Lieberman, 60, who was class president of his high school in 1959, said his top priorities as president would be to strengthen homeland security while protecting Social Security.
He promised to try to make health care more affordable and available, fix failing schools, restore fiscal responsibility and expand economic opportunity with sensible tax cuts and sound investments that will bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore era. Lieberman also stressed that he would work to make college education more affordable to middle America.
"To make the American dream real, we've got to make college affordable," Lieberman said, noting that he has supported a $10,000-a-year tax deduction for college education expenses and has supported increases in Pell Grants, which mainly aid students from middle-income families.
"I have a host of other ideas to make sure we not only get all our children into college that can go, but to keep them there," he said.
Asked whether he would solicit the support of Gore, Lieberman said he's asked for his support but didn't expect anything more.
"We were close friends and we remain close friends," Lieberman said. "I would be honored by his support but I've got to earn it, as I've got to earn the support of every other American."
On international affairs, Lieberman is hawkish on Iraq and has been a staunch critic of the North Korean crisis, though he has said the Bush administration needs to get involved in discussions with Pyongyang, something the administration was late to begin.
"I do believe the Bush administration has mishandled the situation on the Korean peninsula and the situation in North Korea," Lieberman said.
Calling North Korea a "dictatorial regime," he chastised Bush for not having any "clear and consistent" policy toward North Korea as he does with Iraq.
Lieberman also has criticized the Bush administration on the Homeland Security Department, saying that Congress needs more oversight of the agency.
Lieberman enters the 2004 presidential race with the highest name recognition of any of the Democratic candidates. There are at least six men vying for the Democratic nomination, and possibly five more people who may throw their hats in the ring.
Asked what sets him apart from the other Democrats in the race, Lieberman said he'd leave that decision up to voters.
"I think my record, the priorities I've expressed today, the values I've tried to bring to politics and public service -- my whole life story gives you an idea of what kind of president I would be," he said.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.