By Todd J. Gillman / The Dallas Morning News
UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. â€“ The presidency, Joe Lieberman explained, acting the professor, is not only the most important job in the world. It's also the most complex. And sadly â€“ he shook his head for effect â€“ the Texas governor just doesn't have what it takes.
"Is George W. Bush ready?" he asked, brows cocked, face serious. "No! No!" came the shouts from the crowd of about 400 people Thursday morning at a suburban St. Louis community center.
The senator broke into a smile. "That was my answer," he said.
The Democratic vice presidential nominee is crossing the country, cajoling, pleading, joking, promising four more years of boom times, health care for 11 million uninsured children, drug coverage for seniors. He attacks the Bush record, the Bush philosophy, the Bush rÃ©sumÃ© and warns that prosperity doesn't have to last forever.
"You all know it's the closest election since 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected," Mr. Lieberman said in Missouri, whose 11 electoral votes are still in doubt. "And you also know how much changed when President Kennedy was elected."
For at least one voter, the reference was apt.
"He's centrist in the right ways. And when he's left, he's right, too," said Frank Flinn, a religion professor at nearby Washington University. "I haven't seen this combination of warmth and wit since Kennedy."
In the fading days of the closest election in generations, campaigns are bound to cross paths. Mr. Lieberman's plane was taxiing to leave St. Louis just as Mr. Bush's arrived for a rally in suburban St. Charles.
Mr. Bush didn't mention Mr. Lieberman. But the senator spent plenty of time talking about the governor â€“ giving special attention to oft-repeated Democratic criticism that Mr. Bush has spent the same $1 trillion twice in his budget.
"It's wrong. It's irresponsible," Mr. Lieberman declared, calling the governor's plans "fuzzy math" that's so bad, it amounts to a "Texas two-step. It may be a good dance, but not with people's retirement funds."
Vice President Al Gore hesitates to invoke the name of Bill Clinton, the man whose shadow he has spent months trying to escape. But Mr. Lieberman often credits the president by name for the booming economy.
"Bill Clinton and Al Gore ran for the White House to get America moving again," the senator told one crowd this week. "Look at where we are eight years later. ... We have the strongest economy in the 224-year history of the United States."
Mr. Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, also frequently invoke Mr. Clinton's name. At a rally Thursday near Mr. Gore's headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Cheney proclaimed that Election Day "will be the end of the Clinton-Gore era."
Mr. Lieberman, in contrast, argues that the vice president represents progress on Social Security, health care, the economy. As for Mr. Bush, he tells crowds, the governor just isn't ready to be president.
To illustrate the Democrat-Republican choice, he borrowed a quip from Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin: "All you need to know about how to vote in this election you learned when you learned to drive a car. If you want to go backward, you put it in R. If you want to go forward, put it in D."