WASHINGTON — Joe Lieberman will be a featured speaker on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, capping an extraordinary political journey for a man who could have been this year's Democratic nominee for president had history taken a different turn.
Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic nominee for vice president under Al Gore — a ticket that lost to George W. Bush by 537 votes in Florida and by a 5-4 vote in the U.S. Supreme Court — will get a prime-time slot Sept. 1 at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., party officials announced Wednesday.
The speaking role is the result of the four-term Connecticut senator's loyalty to Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Lieberman is often mentioned as a possible vice-presidential running mate for McCain.
The senators bonded in the 1990s as they tried to build bipartisan coalitions on foreign policy, campaign finance changes and environmental issues. Their alliance has strengthened in recent years over their support of the Iraq war.
Lieberman's views have infuriated many Democrats. He lost the Democratic senate primary in 2006 to anti-war activist Ned Lamont, but won the general election running as an independent. Lieberman won by 10 points with the support of 70 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents. He got only a third of Democrats in a state he had represented in the Senate for three terms as a Democrat.
After winning re-election, he insisted that he was still a Democrat — a crucial decision, since Democrats needed his vote to form a Senate majority.
He also felt somewhat alienated from the party — and from Obama. Obama was one of the few Senate Democrats who gave Lamont money, and just before the primary he sent an e-mail to about 5,000 Connecticut residents urging them to back Lamont.
Lieberman still votes with Democrats in the Senate most of the time, especially on domestic issues. But he continues to anger many in his own party with his support for the war — and by campaigning for McCain.
Lieberman long has taken hawkish stands on Middle East issues. He advocated aggressive policies against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and against the governments of Iran and Syria. He is a devout supporter of Israel who shares many convictions with McCain.
"Most people are good, but some aren't," Lieberman said in a 2005 interview. "If you get somebody evil in a true position of power, they can do terrible damage. The best way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing."
World War II is clearly an influence on his thinking. He cannot say for certain how his 1983 marriage to Hadassah Freilich Tucker, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, influenced his views, but it certainly brought the Holocaust legacy into his home.
His wife, he said, "has made it more personal to me."
Lieberman's Republican convention speech will continue what may become a tradition — having a speaker from the other party. Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, revved up the 2004 Republican convention with a harsh attack on his own party's ticket.
Lieberman recently told NBC's "Meet the Press" that he'd use his speech to talk positively about McCain.
"I'm not going to go to that convention, the Republican convention, and spend my time attacking Barack Obama," he said. "I'm going to go there really talking about why I support John McCain and why I hope a lot of other independents and Democrats will do that."
Nevertheless, the 66-year-old senator is taking some political risk by appearing.
"It's a gamble because the Democratic Party has real issues with Lieberman," said Gary Rose, a professor of political science at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
If the Democrats pick up more Senate seats and Lieberman no longer is needed to form a majority, Rose said, "there's a good chance he'll be more ostracized," and perhaps lose the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
But if McCain wins, Rose noted, Lieberman would be in a coveted position. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him in a McCain administration," he said.