Sen. Joe Lieberman nearly became the first person in history to be the vice presidential nominee for two different parties, but it turns out one reason he so fully embraced Republican Sen. John McCain during the presidential campaign is that none of his fellow Democrats asked for his help.
In 2007, Lieberman (I-CT) was reviled by Democrats who supported him being booted from his caucus thanks in part to the Iraq war. It should not have been much of a surprise that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton weren’t racing for an endorsement.
But it was to Lieberman, according to an account described in the book “Game Change” and confirmed to me by Lieberman’s office.The book, written by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, contains some unreported nuggets about how McCain (R-AZ) secured Lieberman’s endorsement when he needed it most.
According to the account, McCain phoned Lieberman after their Thanksgiving 2007 visit to Iraq.
Heilemann and Halperin write:
New Hampshire is going to be everything for me, he said. And there’s a lot of independents who are going to vote in the primary. I want to ask if you’d think about giving me your support. If you can’t, I’ll understand. You’re in enough trouble with your party already, but I know it would help me out a lot.
Give me a couple of days to think it over, Lieberman replied. It’s a big step, but you know how I feel about you. We’ve been through a lot together and particularly on the war.
Lieberman talked with his friends, family and staff and one person told him he was crazy, but added that McCain’s campaign would not last very long so it would be a short endorsement, according to the book.
And here’s the kicker:
On the other hand, not a single Democratic candidate had asked for Lieberman’s endorsement, not even his fellow Connecticut senator, Chris Dodd.
For all the distance between him and his party, Lieberman still found that level of ostracism surprising – and painful, very painful.
Lieberman’s office confirmed this account to me and sources close to the Republican campaign note the close McCain-Lieberman friendship had a lot to do with it. Democrats also are the first to point out that a Lieberman endorsement would have hurt more than helped in the Iowa caucus.
Lieberman became one of McCain’s go-to friends and advisers, and Lieberman, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were bosom buddies on the campaign trail.
Game Change also says that one of the trio’s favorite past times was watching the “I feel pretty” YouTube clip of John Edwards fixing his hair.
But more importantly, Lieberman’s loyalty and defiance of the Democratic party led McCain to want him as his running mate. McCain came so close that his team was already attempting to smooth the waters for nominating a pro-choice former Democrat at the Republican National Convention.
But in mid-August, Karl Rove told McCain aides it would be an awful idea, according to Game Change. Rove phoned Lieberman Aug. 24 and pleaded with him to decline the offer.
“[Y]ou may be the only person who can save McCain from himself,” Rove said to Lieberman, according to the book.
After his team convinced him Lieberman wouldn’t fly, McCain then picked Sarah Palin and the rest is history. Palin’s book “Going Rogue” includes pages of kind words for Lieberman, who helped her with debate prep and during the general election.
Special thanks to Sasha Issenberg for loaning me his copy of the book.