Gore: So Long Lieberman

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 9, that has been edited for clarity.

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DEMOCRATIC HOPEFUL SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: And I was surprised that Al Gore (search) didn't notify me before I learned about it from the media. That would have been the right thing to do. I was surprised that Al Gore would endorse a candidate who stands for so many things that Al Gore has not stood for.


BRIT HUME, HOST: And when the Gore notification came, it was in a telephone conversation this morning. And Lieberman was asked what about that?


LIEBERMAN: I would not care to characterize it, with all respect. It was -- I would say that it was about four or five minutes in length and too late.


HUME: So why did Al Gore abandon his former running mate to back a man who appears to be heading in the opposite direction from which Bill Clinton (search) and Al Gore at one time, at least, tried to take it?

For answers, we turn to Susan Estrich, law professor, Fox News contributor and long-time Democratic Party activist.

Hi, Susan.


HUME: I'm well. Tell me about what your take on this. And what was behind this, in your view?

ESTRICH: Well, I was really, very disappointed by Al Gore's decision. I think, first of all, Joseph Lieberman deserved better. Gore himself was, at various points, very troubled by questions of loyalty, of Bill Clinton. And you know, you have to ask yourself why didn't he wait two months? I mean all he had to do, as a leader of the Democratic Party, as Joseph Lieberman's former running mate, was to wait two months, give voters a chance to vote.

Dean is the front-runner. I think all the smart money says that he'll probably win Iowa, almost certainly win New Hampshire. And at that point, Brit, as a leader, Gore could have stood up at a critical point in the process and said now it is time to come together.

But to jump out ahead of everybody else, step on his former running mate, kick Dick Gephardt, who carried the Clinton-Gore agenda for years in the House, put his ambitions aside in 2000 to endorse Al Gore, just seemed to me not the right move for Al Gore or for the party, for that matter.

HUME: But if he had waited, would his endorsement meant as much to a nominee or to a candidate in a person of Dean whose candidacy would be much further advanced by two months from now, say?

ESTRICH: Well, meant as much in what respect, I mean...

HUME: Well, adding to momentum.

ESTRICH: I guess it -- I guess the answer would be no. Would it have meant something different, all right? You know, what is Gore bringing today? It increases his sense of inevitability. Sure, if you're Joe Trippe, the campaign manager, you love the greater sense of inevitability. It will make it very tough for the other guys to raise money. So yes, it helps in that way.

On the other hand, I can make the case if you are trying to be a party leader, that what leaders do is stay neutral until the voters get a chance to actually vote and then pull the party together at that critical moment. And you know, if you look at it from Al Gore's perspective, I mean here he is, the former vice president. He hardly wants an ambassadorship, a cabinet job. I mean what is he looking for, kingmaker credit?

HUME: You don't think he'd take secretary of state?

ESTRICH: Well, maybe he would. But I don't think he should. Do you? I thought he was supposed to be going into business to compete with us, with the liberal network and what he's done today is really piss off, I have to tell you, everybody who's supporting a different candidate, everybody in the Democratic leadership council, which he helped form, the more moderate wing of the party. Many of whom are concerned, frankly, about Howard Dean. And if Howard Dean should be the nominee, and not win, I got to tell you, the knives will be out for Al Gore.

So, maybe he helps himself become secretary of state. But why would a former vice president even want to be secretary of state? I just don't get it. I don't think Al Gore has very good, political instincts. We just -- we haven't even mentioned all his former staff people working for Wesley Clark. I mean maybe this is his way of saying John Kerry, as it were, to the Clintons. And I think there is some of that in here, too. But it really does set him apart from a lot of folks who have helped him in the Democratic Party.

HUME: Well, what about that element of it, that it would appear that the Clintons, to the extent that they're tipping their hand on any sympathies here, are backing Wesley Clark? And Harrell Ickes, close -- someone close to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton has been critical of Howard Dean, suggesting some concern there. What about the glad this was Gore getting back for -- at Bill Clinton for what he considered to be his disloyalty?

ESTRICH: Well, you can argue when you look at the Clark campaign, it is just chock full of Clinton. But also Gore people. I mean there are all these guys in there who spent years sweating for Al Gore. So, if he was trying to get at the Clintons by doing in Wesley Clark, he got at his own people at the same time. And you keep coming back to the point of why? Maybe it's just that he thinks Dean is the right guy and wanted to help him.

But it is not like Dean was falling on his face without Al Gore. I can make the cases that Dean was on the road. And the one funny part that nobody's focusing on here, Brit, is the old tradition in the Democratic Party. Which is that when somebody gets too far ahead of the game, there is a tendency in voters in states like Iowa to say, well, the heck with that, I'm going to revolt.

HUME: Well, particularly New Hampshire. I wanted to ask you about that.


HUME: New Hampshire has been exceedingly unkind to front runners...

ESTRICH: To front-runners.

HUME: ... in both parties.

ESTRICH: I've been there.

HUME: Yes. You bet. And I just wondered whether you think that this actually adds to this kind of momentum that New Hampshirites love to put the brakes on.

ESTRICH: You know, in all honesty, I still think Dean is the front-runner. I still think Dean is the man to beat. But if you are sitting in Gephardt's camp tonight or in Kerry's camp tonight, you have to say your best shot may be some approach that that says don't let them take your vote away.

HUME: Got you.

ESTRICH: And nobody has given up yet.

HUME: Susan Estrich, great to have you. Thanks very much.

ESTRICH: Thanks.

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