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The battle for second place

These nominees for vice president are cool and hot: a man in charge and a man impassioned.

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 16, 2000


MADISON, Wis. -- As Dick Cheney strides to his campaign plane, he sees two mechanics standing beneath the door and gives them a salute.

Never mind that he hasn't been defense secretary for eight years, and never mind that the mechanics don't actually work for him. The Republican nominee for vice president still snaps the occasional salute because he is still a man in charge.

Staff members refer to him as "The Secretary." His campaign bus is like a rolling situation room. His theme song is HELP IS ON THE WAY.

But spend a few days on the campaign trail with his Democratic counterpart, Joe Lieberman, and you see a very different candidate.

The Connecticut senator shows a boyish enthusiasm about being the nominee, savoring every minute in the limelight. He laughs at his own jokes, talks lovingly about his mother and says it was "a miracle" he was picked by Vice President Al Gore.

"I can feel your dreams," he tells a crowd in Tacoma, Wash. "America is all about dreams."

Lieberman's campaign is not about power. It's about heart and soul.

When Lieberman walks to the microphone for a rally in a cold Minneapolis hangar, there's a man in the front row wearing a blue yarmulke embroidered with "Gore-Lieberman 2000."

The man wearing it, a Minneapolis pediatrician named Julius Edlavitch, is the loudest person in the crowd.

When Lieberman mentions his wife Hadassah, the pediatrician shouts "Hadassah!" as if he were hollering the name of a rock star. When Lieberman mentions that 1.4-million children in Texas don't have health insurance, Edlavitch shouts: "Too many! Too many!"

That kind of enthusiasm is a common sight on the campaign trail with Lieberman. The Connecticut senator's mix of humor, compassion and righteousness has energized many Democrats who were uninspired by Gore.

Edlavitch has loyally supported his party's nominees before, but he says he feels special fondness for Lieberman because they are both Jewish.

"He has a record of integrity," Edlavitch says. "He's got moral values."

Democrats are thrilled to see ethical purity on their ticket. They won't criticize Gore for being low on virtue, but they praise Lieberman for having an abundance of it.

At a $10,000-per-couple fundraiser at a posh 75th-floor club in Seattle, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz says most of the 50 people in the room would not have given money to the Democratic Party this year if Lieberman were not on the ticket.

"Lieberman has a brand, a brand based on integrity and trust," says the man who persuaded the nation to pay $10 a pound for coffee.

Lieberman's reputation springs from his willingness to break with his party on moral and ethical issues.

He was one of the first Democrats to lambaste President Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal and has been a frequent critic of Hollywood for its violent and sexually explicit productions. In the past few years, Lieberman and former Education Secretary Bill Bennett gave "Silver Sewer" awards to companies that made objectionable programs.

(Winners included the Seagram Corp. for the JERRY SPRINGER SHOW and the songs of Marilyn Manson; and CBS-TV for the HOWARD STERN SHOW and showing Dr. Jack Kevorkian's lethal injection of a terminally ill man. Rupert Murdoch, the head of the Fox entertainment empire, earned the Silver Sewer Lifetime Achievement Award.)

Lieberman "stood up to President Clinton. He was the only one to do that," says Jonathan Istrin, a home health administrator who contributed $1,000 to hear the senator speak at a Los Angeles luncheon.

But Lieberman's righteousness has limits.

His daughter Rebecca Lieberman, a 31-year-old New York lawyer, describes him as a tolerant father who didn't mind when she played David Bowie and wore a button that read, "Question Authority."

When she balked at taking the bar exam after she finished law school, he strongly urged her to take it, but then backed off when she decided not to.

"He's open-minded," she says. "He doesn't try to push anything on anybody."

Cheney in charge

Speaking at an outdoor rally in Lima, Ohio, Cheney talks fondly about the Abrams tank, which is made at a nearby factory.

"It's a fantastic piece of equipment," he says. When he mentions the explosion on the USS COLE, he reminds a crowd in Kettering, Ohio, that the ship is "one of our Burke class destroyers."

He isn't shy about playing up his defense credentials. To hammer home a point about the Clinton-Gore neglect of military readiness, he says he phoned former President Ronald Reagan at the conclusion of the Persian Gulf War to thank him for beefing up the military.

"I wonder if any future secretary of defense is going to call Al Gore or Bill Clinton and thank them."

Big pause.

"I don't think so."

Cheney, a stocky, balding man who campaigns in Hush Puppies, has been criticized for being dull. He speaks quietly and shows little emotion. But what he conveys is the power of calm, a subtle reminder that you don't have to be loud to be in control.

Cheney is the perfect antidote to Democratic complaints that Texas Gov. George W. Bush is a lightweight on defense and foreign policy. Cheney was White House chief of staff under President Gerald Ford, a congressman from Wyoming, Defense secretary and, most recently, chief executive officer of Halliburton, a big oil services company.

He talks proudly of "our men and women in uniform" and says the military has been neglected by the Clinton-Gore administration. He says Gore "does not want to admit we have problems in the U.S. military. But we do."

Cheney is blunt in his comments about using military force. Asked by reporters about the bombing of the COLE, Cheney says, "The important thing is to find out who did it and be sure they pay a very heavy price."

The crowds in the Midwest seem to like him. Dutch Neitzke, a retired truck driver in Maumee, Ohio, says Cheney "should be the one running for president. He's a very intelligent person."

God and Mom

During a rally in the Dawg Shed, a college hall in Tacoma, Wash., someone mistakenly calls Lieberman "Mr. Vice President."

"I like the sound of that," Lieberman says with a big grin. "If my mother were here, she'd say, "From your lips to God's ears!' "

God gets mentioned frequently in Lieberman's speeches. In the two months since he was picked, Lieberman has proven you don't have to be from the religious right to talk about the Supreme Being. His divine talk surprised Democrats at first, but they've come to realize he's still loyal to their cause.

He frequently praises Clinton and Gore. He says the nation is in the middle of "an education renaissance" and defends Gore against charges that he exaggerates his accomplishments.

"That's all nonsense aimed at diverting people from what the real issues are about," he says.

The Lieberman campaign is a much looser operation than Cheney's. While the former defense secretary's trips are run with military precision (his campaign staffers wear Secret Service-style radios for instant communication), the Lieberman effort is more haphazard.

Photographers in Seattle gripe because Lieberman staffers keep them so far away that they cannot take good pictures. Lieberman gets stuck overnight in San Jose, Calif., because his plane is too late to make a noise curfew.

At every campaign event, Lieberman tells the crowd that he and Gore won't make personal attacks the way the Republicans have. But Lieberman isn't bashful about criticizing Bush's record in Texas.

"Houston now has the dirtiest air in America," he says.

He says the nation is at "the moment of opportunity. I just honestly believe Al Gore is the perfect leader for this moment."

A big slice of pie

At a truck stop near Findlay, Ohio, Cheney plops down at a table of truckers, beside one whose T-shirt lists "The Top 10 Reasons You Might Be a Racing Redneck." (No. 1: "You think the last four words of the national anthem are "Gentleman, start your engines.' ")

As Cheney devours a big slice of apple pie ("It's low-fat," the waitress assures everyone), he commiserates with the truckers about high fuel prices. He says the Clinton-Gore administration has allowed the U.S. to become too dependent on foreign oil.

Then, sounding like he's giving a briefing to the president, he tells them about the latest news he has seen on CNN in his rolling war room. He says, "The stock market's in the tank," and gives them an update on the explosion on the COLE.

"Is this an act of war?" one of the truckers asks.

Cheney furrows his brow. "It looks like it," he says.

One of the drivers complains about bureaucratic red tape in Medicare and asks what Bush and Cheney plan to do about it.

"Medicare needs to be reformed; it's 35 years out of date," Cheney says. "You've got to modernize and upgrade it."

Medicare has become a key issue in the campaign because many senior citizens are unhappy it does not include prescription drug coverage. Cheney says he and Bush have a two-step plan that will provide interim coverage for low- and middle-income seniors and then, over the long term, will overhaul the entire Medicare program.

After Cheney wolfs down the last few bites of pie, all but the crust, the men say they're impressed.

Tom Warburton, the Pittsburgh trucker in the Racing Redneck shirt, says he is a Democrat but will now vote Republican.

With Bush and Cheney, Warburton says, "we'll have a little integrity back in the White House."

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