ST. PAUL, Minn. — Joseph Lieberman, the Democrats' 2000 vice-presidential nominee, and former Sen. Fred Thompson tore into Democratic nominee Barack Obama Tuesday night at the Republican National Convention with red-meat speeches that painted Republicans as the party of patriots and attacked Democrats as eager to give up in Iraq.
Thompson, a former Tennessee senator, and Lieberman, an independent Democrat from Connecticut, were the featured speakers at the Republican gathering's first prime-time session.
Thompson went first with a 35-minute stemwinder that got the crowd cheering. After reciting a lengthy passage about presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain's heroism as a Vietnam prisoner of war, Thompson said: "It's pretty clear there are two questions we will never have to ask ourselves: 'Who is this man?' and 'Can we trust this man with the presidency?' "
That was a hard jab at Obama, who's been a U.S. senator from Illinois for only three and a half years and remains something of a puzzle to many Americans, polls show.
Thompson took another shot later: "To deal with these challenges the Democrats present a history-making nominee for president; history making in that he is the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee ever to run for president."
Lieberman said he had another mission: to explain how McCain brought people together. Then he proceeded to rip into Obama.
"When others wanted to retreat in defeat from the field of battle, when Barack Obama was voting to cut off funding for our troops on the battlefield," Lieberman said, "John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion and support the surge (in Iraq), and because of that, today our troops are at last beginning to come home, not in failure but in honor."
Further, Obama "has not reached across party lines to accomplish anything significant," Lieberman added.
The two featured speakers overshadowed brief remarks by President Bush.
"We live in a dangerous world," the president said in a satellite hookup from the White House, "and we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."
Bush, whose scheduled appearance Monday night was canceled because of Hurricane Gustav, praised McCain's war position, saying that "one senator above all had faith in our troops and the importance of their mission, and that was John McCain."
The partisan pitches created a far different tone from Monday's somber opening convention session, when speakers quietly urged support for Gustav's victims.
Tuesday, delegates heard Thompson tear into Obama's abortion-rights stand. "We need a president who doesn't think that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade," Thompson said, a reference to Obama's recent dodge of a question at a public forum on when life begins.
Thompson vigorously defended Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the little-known presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee.
"She is from a small town, with small-town values, but apparently that's not good enough for those folks who are out there attacking her and her family," he said.
"Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit," Thompson said.
He also took on the news media, charging that "the selection of Governor Palin has the other side and their friends in the media in a state of panic."
Lieberman has been close to McCain on environmental, campaign-finance and national security issues, and has campaigned extensively for him this year. He caucuses with Senate Democrats, and votes with their party about 85 percent of the time.
But he was a hero to Republicans on Tuesday.
"What, after all, is a Democrat like me doing at a Republican convention like this?" he asked. "The answer is simple. I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party."
He recalled how "I have personally seen John over and over again bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face."
He offered faint praise of Obama as "a gifted and eloquent young man . . . but eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times."
Delegates hailed Lieberman.
"The Republican Party is a diverse party, and he's one of the more thoughtful people in public life," said Chris Nelson, a national security consultant from Anchorage, Alaska.
"He helps with independents, Jewish voters and moderate Democrats, and he energizes our base. Not all of our base is evangelical," added Allen Miller, a St. Lucie County, Fla., Republican official.
(Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News in Anchorage, Marisa Taylor in Washington and William Douglas in Philadelphia contributed to this article.)
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