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'Mr. Clean' lifts Gore campaign

Choosing Lieberman as VP has given the ticket a boost. He speaks tonight.

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When Sen. Joseph Lieberman takes the stage tonight at the Democratic National Convention, an important step in the party's attempt at transformation will unfold.

President Clinton has left Los Angeles. His protg, Al Gore, has symbolically taken over leadership of the party. And Mr. Gore's running mate, Senator Lieberman, emerges as a new standard-bearer for his party - a reverse Clinton who stands for virtue, not charm, who is a bane to Hollywood, not its buddy.

But how much can the Connecticut Democrat, a publicly religious Jewish man dubbed the "conscience of the Senate," truly lift his party's struggling effort to hold on to the White House?

So far, Democratic strategists see Lieberman as a plus to their ticket.

"There's no doubt that this race has gone from [a spread of] around 15 points to 9 or 10 points in the last week," Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said at a Monitor breakfast. "The biggest thing that happened in that period was Joe Lieberman."

Republican pollster Frank Luntz acknowledges that Lieberman's selection has "caused people to take a second look" at Gore. When Gore announced his selection, Mr. Luntz lost several Jewish members of a group of undecided voters he has gathered to react to the Democrats' speeches here this week. Those five or six, he said, decided immediately to back Gore, so they were no longer useful in a focus group.

Still, Gore faces a daunting task in his race against the Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Democrats know that, almost always, the top of the ticket wins or loses the race, not the No. 2. As much as Gore tries to de-Clintonize himself, or at least distance himself from the negative aspects of the Clinton legacy, he can't avoid his public record of support for Mr. Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal or his own scrapes with scandal over campaign fundraising four years ago.

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