CONCORD, N.H. — Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee seven years ago, endorsed Republican John McCain for president on Monday, another step in a political evolution rooted in Lieberman's support for the war in Iraq.
Lieberman, now an independent-Democrat who caucuses with Democrats in the Senate, framed his endorsement as an effort at post-partisanship, saying the Arizona senator could "create a new American unity."
"I think he's got this extra dimension and proven record of working across party lines to get things done," Lieberman said. "We're not gonna solve our problems — health care, education, environment, the economy — unless we start working with one another."
But Lieberman made clear that the war in Iraq was at the forefront of his mind when he chose McCain.
"You're not even gonna have a chance to try to solve domestic problems unless the American people have confidence that you will protect them in a dangerous world," Lieberman said. "And I worry that the Democratic candidates in the primary have been drawn so far left that in the general election it's gonna be hard to convince a lot of people in the middle that they're able to support a strong defense."
McCain hopes Lieberman's support will help with voters who are sick of the status quo.
"This is one of the responses that I can have to that deep and abiding dissatisfaction that Americans have with the way we work in Washington," McCain said.
The endorsement also could help with the independent voters who dominate New Hampshire's political landscape. About 40 percent of the state's registered voters are independents. They can vote in either party's primary Jan. 8. In winning the 2000 New Hampshire primary, McCain overwhelmingly carried the independent vote.
Lieberman was Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and ran an ill-fated campaign for president himself in 2004. His consistent support of the war in Iraq cost him renomination to the Senate as a Democratic candidate last year. He won anyway, running as an independent.
McCain and Lieberman are good friends. Traveling by bus Monday in New Hampshire, the two joked heartily and exchanged multiple knee-slaps.
Nevertheless, the endorsement is remarkable for a couple of reasons.
First, Lieberman is a conventional Democrat apart from his support for the war. He voted with the party 87.3 percent of the time this year, almost identical to Democratic Senate members' average of 87.8 percent. In contrast, McCain has voted with Republicans 87.4 percent of the time. Besides the war, the two share little ideologically.
Second, the endorsement was a stunning break with protocol. Lieberman's Connecticut colleague, Christopher Dodd, is running for president as a Democrat. Typically, members of the same party from the home state of a presidential candidate support that candidate, even if they aren't close. And Lieberman is generally a liberal Democrat, even if he's technically an independent-Democrat now.
But Lieberman has had a bitter relationship with the party since he lost the 2006 primary to businessman Ned Lamont. His relationship with Dodd, for years his good friend, has shown the strain. Dodd supported Lieberman in the primary, but made it clear that he'd back the Democratic nominee, Lamont, once he won. Dodd even did a commercial for Lamont.
Lieberman said Monday that no Democratic candidate had called to ask for his support.
"Political party is important, but not more important than what you think is best for the country," Lieberman said.
"It's a matter of record that Senator Dodd campaigned against Joe Lieberman," McCain said. "I don't think that means some type of political protocol would have to prevail."
(Lightman reported from Washington.)