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On the road with Joe
A day with the VP candidate includes lots of issues—and endless fund-raising


Detroit Jewish News
October 31, 2000

DETROIT—On a dreary morning in October, the factory workers are standing in the aisles, smiling, and hoping to get a handshake from a man who can't wait to meet them.

Harry Kirsbaum
Lieberman (center) talks shop with factory workers in Romulus, Mich.

"I haven't seen the people here this excited since last year, when we got profit sharing," says a woman worker to no one in particular. She's wearing a Gore Lieberman 2000 t-shirt, as are many others in the plant.

Then the cause of all the stir, Joseph I. Lieberman, appears, trailed by a large entourage of staff members, union leaders and secret service agents.

The Connecticut Senator, the first Jew to run for vice president on a major party ticket, removes his suit coat, rolls up his sleeves, and slowly makes his way around a prearranged path in the Visteon Automotive Systems plant, in Romulus, Michigan.

He doesn't quite have a rock-star quality, but he does make an impressive entrance, and some people do seem to get star struck. A woman worker can only squeal in delight when he stops to ask her a question.

After donning a UAW Local 898 jacket with his name embroidered on it, he launches into a short speech tailored to the workers-talking of a thriving economy that has added jobs, reduced the crime rate, and has taken people off welfare.

He tells the crowd that plants like this factory show "that the new economy has gone well beyond the Silicon Valley, where it supposedly started, and it's come right here to the heartland of Michigan, to the heart of our economy which is the automotive industry."

He says that the race is very close, and Michigan is very important.

"If we can win it here, we'll win it everywhere." He'll say the same thing about Florida later in the day.

After a few more handshakes, he is off to Florida, where he'll spend the rest of the day and night delineating the Democrat's prescription plan to senior citizens, and raising more money from a predominately Jewish audience.

The Jewish News traveled with Lieberman for one very full day, to catch an insider's glimpse of the biggest American Jewish political story ever.

Getting Used To Novelty

When Al Gore selected Lieberman as his running mate, he became almost a novelty among Jews who were so proud of his position.

When the vice-presidential debate finished, Lieberman and Dick Cheney raised the bar for their running mates with their issue-driven, non-smirking, non-combative form, and gained the favor, and a larger degree of credibility, among voters everywhere.

The breakdown of the Mideast peace process and the recurring violence in Israel has also drawn voters' attention to Lieberman. How his Jewishness-played down by his staff in recent weeks-will affect Jews and non-Jews alike is anybody's guess. Will voters think his deeply religious belief cloud his judgment in the Mideast? Will Jews expect it from him?

Raising dollars

After a late flight from Washington, D.C., on Sunday-Sukkot had to end before he could board-

Lieberman and his wife, Hadassah, flew into Willow Run airport and attended a Democratic fundraiser in Southfield, starting his "Lieberman Rolls Through Motor City" tour. He drew warm applause from the mostly Jewish crowd.

According to Hannan Lis, one of the nearly 400 who attended, Lieberman's religion is not the point.

Harry Kirsbaum
Prescription drugs is clearly a point of emphasis during Liebermanís talk at Century Village in West Palm Beach, Fla.

America's relationship with the only true democracy in the Mideast is already very strong, and there have been Jews in high U.S. government positions for a long time, he says. "Yes it's different, but not by that much."

He doesn't think that if elected, Lieberman will be the person that Jews will go to first when it comes to Mideast issues.

Right now, Lieberman is going to the Jews for something else. Lieberman raised about $425,000 that night for the Democratic party, a warmup for the day ahead.

According to Joel Tauber, a Detroiter who is chairman of the executive committee of the United Jewish Communities, the Democrats are trying to raise $10 million from Jewish supporters.

Traveling In vice presidential style

After the fundraiser ended at around 11:30 p.m., Lieberman got a few hours sleep, then left the hotel room at 6:30 a.m. for a day that would take him to five stops in four Florida cities and end at 11:45 p.m. The schedule is possible because of its rented airplane.

"The Spirit," a DC-9, provides a comfortable ride, with Lieberman and his advisors in the first class section, and Secret Service and other staff members towards the front of coach. The back half of the 19 rows is reserved for the traveling press corps, some of whom have reserved seats.

The overhead baggage compartment doors are covered with postcards, campaign and union stickers collected piece by piece from Danvile, Kentucky to Rio Grande Valley, Texas. Past and present members of the press corps have stuck their business cards in the plastic trim of the window.

As comfortable as the press corps is with Lieberman and his staff-there is a friendly give and take going on here-the fuzziness ends at what posters get taped in the press corps section.

"Tape it in your section," the journalists tell a Lieberman staffer who tries to tape a "We Love You Joe Lieberman" poster in the rear of the plane. "We're trying to be objective back here."

Century Village

The first stop in Florida is Century Village in West Palm Beach, a community of some 15,000 retired people. A crowd of 1,000 cheers warmly at Lieberman's every mention of a prescription plan paid for by Medicare, with a ceiling of $4,000 per year for all.

"We believe in expanding the winners circle, so every American benefits from the unprecedented prosperity that we enjoy this year," he tells them.

"Expanding health care so every child has access to decent care, expanding the reach of public school, expanding Medicare to include prescription drugs."

It is a message he will repeat in various forms as the day wears on. He also mentions Israel. "This has been a week of really mixed emotions for me, and I think for a lot of people," he says somberly.

"Our hearts were really heavy as we watched the terrible conflict and bloodshed in the Middle East and I know our hopes and prayers are with President Clinton as he meets today with Israeli and Palestinian and other allied country leaders, in helping to be able to convince them to stop the conflict and reach again for peace."

Wrapping things up on a good natured note, he talks about paying down the national debt by 2012.

"I hope you're all there when we burn the mortgage," he says to a round of applause. "Next year, Mertz Hashem, I'll come back here as the vice president of the United States."

Edythe Pekin, 77, a Century Village resident, said "I don't think it's important to have a Jewish vice president, it's certainly important to have a vice president who's pro-Israel."

Steve Harris, 65, also of Century Village, said, "I think that the president and vice president would put their hands on the bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, and that's what they'll do."

If people think he's going to be more pro-Israel than someone else because of his faith, they're wrong, he said. "I don't think Kennedy was pro anything because he was Catholic."

Lieberman is modern Orthodox, but his Jewish observance is intensely personal and not subject to discussion. His staff members are probably the first to use a monthly schedule that shows sundown times on Friday. Journalists say his religious practice has never held up the schedule.

Raising more

At 12:40 p.m. Lieberman leaves most of the press corps behind-except for one pool reporter who will take notes for the rest of the group-for a private fundraiser for 70 representatives of the Jewish community in Palm Beach. They have paid at least $5,000 for the pleasure of his company, and the meeting raises $500,000.

At 1:55 p.m., he returns to Century Village to talk to local press. At 4:20 p.m., the motorcade leaves for nearby Villa Francisca to meet with African American community leaders. Before he leaves, he is serenaded by a star-struck group of schoolchildren who have suddenly lost their voices after practicing loudly moments before.

At 5:20 p.m., he heads for Boca Grove Country Club in Boca Raton to talk to a Democratic National Committee reception for 250 people who paid $1,000 to be there. Many of the same local Democratic politicians who introduced him at Century Village take the stage. Their message-as well as Lieberman's-is repeated.

At 7:35 p.m. it's off to a DNC dinner at a private residence for 100 people who have each paid at least $5,000. At 9 p.m. he leaves for West Palm Beach Airport, an hour later it's wheels up, headed for Orlando.

While in the air, he steps to the back of the plane to chat with the press corps. He jokes about the woman factory worker who squealed at him in Detroit, and how it took him by surprise and delighted him. He wishes everyone a safe trip, and a good night.

At 10:50 p.m., the plane touches down for the night, by 11:45 p.m. the motorcade pulls up to the Wyndham Palace Resort and Spa in Disneyworld, and he heads to his room.

Tomorrow will be an easy day; two stops in three cities, beginning at 8:45 a.m. in Orlando, ending at 7:55 p.m. in Wausau, Wisc. with a stop in Little Rock, Ark., for a large rally in-between.

At the end of the day, it will not be clear how many votes he has captured for the Gore-Lieberman ticket or whether the speeches have really helped promote a national platform. But Joe will keep on working the crowds, shaking the hands, smiling his ebullient smile and hoping that by the end of Nov. 7, he will have his place in history as the first Jew elected to national office.

The Detroit Jewish News is a Jewish Renaissance Media publication.

© The Detroit Jewish News, 2000. May not be reproduced without written permission


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