By Andrew Abramson
Attacking Barack Obama’s personal associations is fair game, Sen. Joe Lieberman said as he campaigned for John McCain at Chabad of Boca Raton on Monday.
While McCain said he would run a campaign based on issues, he has shifted his strategy in recent days as he falls behind in national and state polls.
On Saturday, Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Obama was “palling around with terrorists” in reference to his relationship with Bill Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who was once involved in the 1960s radical organization the Weather Underground.
Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-independent who was Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 election but has aggressively backed his longtime friend McCain, said questions about Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright “are important because we don’t know (Obama) very well.”
“People will wonder who he will listen to when he gets in office, so he’s got to answer those questions,” Lieberman said.
However, Lieberman told The Palm Beach Post he was angry at comments from McCain’s campaign strategists suggesting that questions about Obama’s character would help divert attention away from the economic crisis that is hurting McCain in the polls.
“In any way the McCain campaign raises questions about associations — the people who (Obama is) associated with like Bill Ayers or Rev. Wright — will not be an attempt to get off the issues,” Lieberman said. “The issues are what John McCain is all about.”
While Lieberman recognized that Obama has a pro-Israel voting record in the Senate, he continued to stress to predominantly Jewish crowds in Boca and West Palm Beach that McCain would be the strongest president for Israel.
“He knows America and world history, he knows the history of the Jewish people, and he knows the historic claims that Jewish people have for Israel and Jerusalem,” Lieberman said.
While Jews have traditionally voted Democratic, there has been a small shift to McCain and the Republicans this year, although it might be reversing as McCain loses support across the board.
“I don’t know if I’m afraid of (Obama), but I do think he has Muslim tendencies,” said Sidney Lanier, who watched Lieberman’s speech Monday afternoon at the MorseLife retirement community in West Palm Beach and will vote for McCain.
Pearl Galatz said she was planning to back McCain until he selected Palin, someone she doesn’t believe is ready for the national stage. She also believes McCain is dodging important issues.
“I’m still not completely sure about Obama, but I do feel confident with (Joe) Biden attached to the ticket,” she said.
With concerns looming over Palin, Lieberman praised Palin but said he believes voters will ultimately vote for the top of the ticket, and that voters shouldn’t worry about McCain’s health.
“The consequence of your vote is only related to people running for president,” Lieberman said. “Only one person will walk into office Jan. 20, and that’s John McCain or Barack Obama.”
Lieberman also said McCain was the only candidate who asked for his support during the primaries, and that the Democrats had been inhospitable to his views.
“There was no invitation for the contrary voice within the tent, because there was no room in the tent offered,” Lieberman said.