McCain: I've got Lieberman

The Democrats' 2004 vice-presidential nominee is endorsing a Republican today.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 17, 2007 1:08PM (EST)

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who was the Democrats' vice-presidential candidate in 2000 and sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, said back in June that he could "definitely" see himself endorsing a Republican candidate for president in 2008. This morning in New Hampshire, he's scheduled to make it official.

In an appearance on the "Today" show this morning, Republican Sen. John McCain confirmed reports that he has scored Lieberman's endorsement. As Walter Shapiro notes, it's not exactly a surprise: Both men are strong supporters of the war in Iraq -- Lieberman more resolutely so than McCain, actually -- and Lieberman hinted at his choice back in June when he said he wanted to "talk straight" about his alignment with "the leading Republican candidates ... on the defining issue of our time."

What does it mean? Most immediately, coming on the heels of endorsements from the Des Moines Register and the Boston Globe, it's another shot of momentum for a man who could use one. McCain's poll numbers in Iowa have been headed in the wrong direction forever. While he's moving up in New Hampshire, he still trails Mitt Romney by double digits there. That said, McCain seems best positioned to pick up the pieces as other contenders collapse. Rudy Giuliani is now reduced to talking about "miracles." Romney is seeing his considerable investment in his campaign go south, and a big loss to Mike Huckabee in Iowa could soften him up for McCain in New Hampshire. While Huckabee's surge has given him what seems like an insurmountable lead in Iowa, it's hard to think that the more secular-minded voters of New Hampshire won't begin to grow weary -- or wary -- of this year's model by early next year.

Do the newspaper endorsements and the Lieberman nod help McCain move up? Maybe, maybe not, but we know they'll do two things.

First, they'll get -- they're getting -- McCain even more press attention than he usually gets; for a day, McCain, not Huckabee, is the story, and that gives him a moment for voters to think about him again. He made the most of that moment on the "Today" show this morning. Asked whether he has a "hot temper," McCain smiled and said he shouldn't be in politics if he's lost the capacity for anger. (But anger about what? McCain talked about partisanship and wasteful spending, mostly.)

Second, the Lieberman endorsement will raise talk again about whether Lieberman will begin caucusing with Senate Republicans; encourage speculation about the possibility of a split ticket for 2008 --John Kerry has said that McCain's people approached him about the possibility of running together in 2004; and cause Democrats who despise Joe Lieberman already to despise him all over again. Lieberman pal Lanny Davis, who's working for Hillary Clinton now, tells the Hartford Courant that he's hoping Lieberman's endorsement counts only in the context of the Republican primary and that he'll keep his options open for the general election. We don't think that's particularly likely -- how do you go from backing a surge supporter to backing someone who's calling for the end of the war? -- but it's not entirely without precedent. It just might not be one Lieberman finds very persuasive. Clinton and Barack Obama endorsed Lieberman when Ned Lamont challenged him in the Democratic Senate primary. When Lamont won the Democratic nomination, Clinton and Obama switched and backed the man chosen by their party.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2008 Elections Joe Lieberman John Mccain R-ariz.