WASHINGTON – Democrat Joe Lieberman (search) was looking for a way to energize his presidential campaign by promoting himself as the foil to front-runner Howard Dean (search) — Al Gore's snub may have done it.
Lieberman has not shied from showing his disappointment that the former vice president endorsed Dean this week without even a courtesy call in advance. Instead, the Connecticut senator is using the endorsement to portray Dean as a problem for the Democratic Party while capitalizing on the response to Gore's slight.
Campaigning in New Hampshire Thursday, Lieberman said Dean would return the Democratic Party to the days before the Clinton administration, "when we had a lot of people in our base who were excited but weren't winning elections."
Lieberman, the most moderate of the nine candidates for the nomination, said the former Vermont governor's claim to represent the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" won't be enough to beat President Bush.
"The Democratic bird doesn't fly with one wing. It needs all its wings," Lieberman said.
He has said he was completely surprised to learn that Gore was endorsing Dean this week from news reports. Just three years ago, Gore had picked Lieberman for the vice presidential spot, and Lieberman showed his loyalty by refusing to enter the race this year until Gore decided not to run.
Lieberman's aides report that scores of well-wishers have contacted the campaign. Many are opening their wallet, too — the campaign reports that more $250,000 in donations have come in since Gore's intention to endorse Dean was revealed Monday.
"Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean" was the reason I contributed, Mark Blackman of Oswego, Ill., wrote in a note accompanying a $54 contribution. "Frankly, I can't afford this contribution but in a larger sense, I can't afford not to make it."
The Lieberman campaign is aggressively pursuing the goodwill. National finance chair Elliot Gerson sent an e-mail to his top fund-raisers Thursday saying the Gore endorsement has presented a "terrific opportunity" for them to step up their push for campaign cash. Gerson attached a sample e-mail that donor Ross Garber used to solicit his friends, citing "Al Gore's dirty sellout" while committing to raise $10,000 for Lieberman in 10 days.
"It will come down to a Dean vs. ??? battle," Garber wrote. "My goal is help fill in the ??? with Joe Lieberman."
Lieberman also sent a note to his e-mail list Wednesday, calling the Gore endorsement "a golden opportunity" to cast the race as Dean vs. Lieberman and asking for online contributions. The result was Lieberman's largest fund-raising day of the quarter, many in small contributions averaging $71.55.
It's unclear whether all the attention will transfer into more votes for Lieberman, whose hawkish, pro-business stance may prove to be too centrist to win the Democratic nomination. But the cash coming in will allow him to buy more advertising to persuade voters that he should be the nominee.
Despite Lieberman's financial gain this week, he has not been able to match donations coming into the Dean campaign since the Gore endorsement. Dean's campaign asked supporters to donate $500,000 by midnight Friday as a thank you to Gore. The campaign said they met the goal by Thursday afternoon.