Joseph Lieberman: Campaign 'all about ideas'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrat Joseph Lieberman, a three-term senator and 2000 vice presidential candidate, jumped into the 2004 presidential race Monday.
He later discussed his campaign with CNN anchor Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the base of the Democratic Party. Traditionally, your party has had, at its base, working people, many of whom belong to labor unions. Women have been part of the base [and] minorities, especially African-Americans.
But when we think of Joe Lieberman's base, we don't tend to think of those groups. How do you attract these hardworking Democrats, who were traditionally the activists in your party, to your cause?
LIEBERMAN: By being myself, by talking about my record as somebody who's been an independent Democrat, who's been willing to fight for average people and their rights and now wants to continue doing that as president.
I mean, I have a record as attorney general, as a senator. I've protected our defense. I've been a leader in creating opportunity and jobs for middle-class people. And I've worked to uphold mainstream values.
And the fact is that the early -- I never like to talk about polls, but the early polling I've seen, including some done by CNN, says that I'm fortunate to be running quite strong at this point in exactly some of those groups that are at the heart of the Democratic Party.
WOODRUFF: But those activists who are going to be voting in those early, crucial primaries, they look at you, they see a more moderate, a more centrist record. Aren't there going to be other Democrats who appeal to them more directly?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope not. I mean, I'm going to be myself. And you know, these are not ordinary times. We were attacked by terrorists a year plus ago in a way that was unprecedented. Our economy is in a rut; it's really hurting the ability of people to stay in the middle class or work their way up to it.
So I don't think that the average voter, including in the Democratic primaries, is going to vote based on some kind of label. I think they're going to look at each of us and say, "Does this person understand me and my values and needs, and will they fight for me?"
And I think I'll pass that test.
WOODRUFF: You mentioned a national poll, but what really does matter -- you know, senator, as well as anybody -- in getting that nomination is how you do in those early primaries. Especially in Iowa and in New Hampshire.
And right now, you've got two opponents. In Iowa, you've got [Missouri Rep.] Dick Gephardt [as] next-door neighbor. He's running very well there, better than you are at this point. In New Hampshire, [Sen.] John Kerry [is from] neighboring Massachusetts. He's running, I think, something like 3-1 ahead of you. Can you win the nomination unless you win one of those two earliest states? Nobody's ever done that before.
LIEBERMAN: Oh, yes indeed. I mean, I don't know the history, but first off, I'm going to take my message and my life story and my hopes and dreams for America to each one of those states. And I'm confident that the people will listen to me.
But this is not going to be a sprint. It's going to be a marathon. And I will have both the ideas, the policies, the energy and the financial support to stay in there for the duration.
And then you get to some states where, I'm pleased to say, right now I'm doing quite well. South Carolina, Arizona, big states like New York, Florida.
So this is all about ideas. And the first caucus and primary are about a year away, so let's let the voters have their say. And most of all, let's us, the candidates, have a good debate about why we think we're each the best to lead America to higher, safer ground. I think I'm that person.
WOODRUFF: [On to] the Middle East: Senator, as a Jewish candidate, how are you going to demonstrate that you are not too close to Israel, too sympathetic to Israeli interests, in order to make decisions that are going to be in the best interest of the United States?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I think my record speaks to this, and I said it, not with regard to this issue, in my announcement statement. But this [election] is all about a president who will put partisanship and everything else aside, and put America first. That's been my record.
My positions on the Middle East are well within the bipartisan mainstream of people in American public life. I'm committed to doing what's right for America. And that's what I'll do.
WOODRUFF: Somewhat in connection with that, my colleague Bill Schneider spent the weekend talking with some elderly Jewish voters down in South Florida. And they all say, "Oh, we like Joe Lieberman; we admire Joe Lieberman. We're not so sure we can support him because we don't think he can beat [President] George W. Bush, and that's what we really want."
I mean, do you start out with a disadvantage with people like this? I mean, these are your own people.
LIEBERMAN: But I'm an American. I mean, I don't pigeonhole here. And my message will be the same to every group in this country.
In fact, I think I have the best chance of any Democratic candidate to defeat President Bush because of the combination of programs and values that I bring: strong on defense, very strong on the kind of economic programs of the Clinton-Gore era that brought us such prosperity. A very different record than the current administration on environmental protection, education, health care [and] civil rights.
We're just at the beginning. And I think those folks in Florida were very good to me in 2000, and I bet they will be again this time around.
WOODRUFF: And finally, senator, only two senators in this century have been directly elected to the presidency. Now, Americans have shown in recent years [that] they'd rather elect governors. They seem to have executive experience. [California] Governor Reagan, Governor Bush of Texas, [Arkansas] Governor Clinton.
How do you overcome that?
LIEBERMAN: Well, you overcome it by saying that you have the best programs and the best ideas to lead America forward.
Also, this is a time where the threats from outside America to our security and, indeed, to our economy -- where the capacity of the president to create not only strength but peace and stability in the world, I think, will be critical factors the voters will be considering.
And, in that sense, to have had the experience I've had as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, traveling extensively around the world, meeting with world leaders, understanding what it takes to protect America's security and uphold our values in the world, I think [it] will be an asset to have been a senator of that kind.
At least, that's the message I'm going to carry forward with confidence to the voters.