Lieberman and Gore Part Ways

Two potential 2004 presidential candidates traveled through American electoral heartland on Monday, but they were offering very distinct messages.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, number two on the Democratic 2000 presidential ticket, spent Columbus Day in New Hampshire, stumping for Democratic candidates in next month's midterm elections.

In another crucial electoral state, former Vice President Al Gore, top of that same 2000 ticket, was helping out candidates in Iowa.

But the two party leaders differ on the use of force against Iraq and find themselves at potentially crossed political purposes when it comes to their own White House hopes in 2004.

New Hampshire is home to the first presidential primary, something that did not escape Lieberman, co-sponsor of the war resolution on Iraq that passed the Senate late last week.

"I did not know that," Lieberman laughed. "No, I have heard that."

Gore was in Iowa, home of the equally crucial first presidential caucus.

"The elections for the House and Senate represent an opportunity to make a mid-course correction," he told supporters of congressional candidate Julie Thomas.

Gore, who has said he would have voted against the Iraq resolution, has barely visited Iowa or New Hampshire since 2000, but plans multiple trips in the months ahead. Aides say he will announce his decision whether to run for president in mid-December after a book tour.

Support for military action varies by state and the prospective candidates were in territory that was receptive to their points of view. In New Hampshire, virtually every prospective Democratic candidate that has visited has embraced the Bush policy toward Iraq. That is not the case in Iowa, where Democrats visiting there have opposed it.

Lieberman has been to New Hampshire five times and continues to insist he'll defer to his former running mate before deciding whether to file his candidacy.

"I have said out of gratitude and loyalty, I've said I will not run if Al does. But if he doesn't, I probably will," Lieberman told Fox News.

Lieberman said he hears that Gore is 50-50 about running. The senator is campaigning and sounding more and more like he does not expect Gore to make the race.

"I think this is going to be a wide open campaign. I think people here are independent minded and we're all going to have a shot at it," he said. "I'm urging [New Hampshire voters] not to make a decision, you know, before January."

Lieberman and 28 other Senate Democrats made their decision to back President Bush to authorize force against Iraq, but Gore and 21 Senate Democrats opposed it. Lieberman cast the riff with a smile, as a virtue of diverse opinion in the Democratic Party.

"The Democratic Party is a spirited party. It's a party in which there are a range of points of view, and that's healthy," Lieberman said.

While Lieberman backs Bush on national security, he is a Democrat eyeing the White House, so that is where he draws the line.

"You have got a president today who has given us some leadership in the war on terrorism, but that's about all," he said.

On the economy, Gore, Lieberman and most Democrats have attacked the president, but even with that there are differences. Lieberman has been critical of Gore's rhetoric in the 2000 election in which he cast economic strength as the people versus the powerful, a populist message. Lieberman is considered much more pro-business.

When it comes to the war on terror and Iraq, Lieberman acknowledges that the most important responsibility is national security, and on that, he believes Gore is just wrong.