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Five and Counting: Lieberman Officially Joins Growing List of 2004 Democratic Candidates

From the day former Vice President Al Gore made his surprise announcement last month that he would not seek the presidency in 2004, a Joe Lieberman candidacy has appeared inevitable. On Monday morning, the Democratic Senator from Connecticut made it official.

Lieberman said last year that if Gore was in the race, he would not run, but the ex-veep’s announcement cleared the way for Lieberman to join the increasingly crowded field of Democrats, which now numbers five, who want to dash President Bush’s hopes for a second term.

Speaking at his alma mater, Stamford High School in Connecticut, Lieberman reminded those gathered that “Al and I got half a million more votes than our opponents” in the contentious 2000 presidential election. He went on to say that if elected he would “bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore years.”

When asked if Gore is supporting him, Lieberman said he expects he will have to earn the Tennesseean’s backing, acknowledging that no Democratic frontrunner exists. Regardless, Lieberman was confident, saying he “intends to win” the nomination.

Lieberman joins two other Senators, John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.), as well as former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the Democratic race. The Rev. Al Sharpton has said he will file the necessary paperwork Jan. 21 and Sen. Bob Graham (Fla.) came very close Sunday to saying he would run.

Not to be counted out just yet are Sens. Christopher Dodd (Conn.) and Joseph Biden (Del.) as well as former Sen. Gary Hart (Colo.), who sought the nomination in 1984 and 1988.

Lieberman said he would do more to improve the economy and help the middle class than Bush has, though he did not actually invoke the president’s name.

“Two years ago we were promised a better America but that promise hasn’t been met,” he said.

He said he would make education a priority so that more people can realize the American dream, including recent immigrants.

To make higher education more affordable, he promised to push to give families a $10,000 annual tax deduction and also vowed to increase funding for Pell Grants, which go to low-income students.

When asked if his religion (in 2000 Lieberman became the first Jewish person on a presidential ticket) would be a major factor in his campaign, Lieberman said: “I am not running on my faith but my faith is at the center of who I am and I am not going to conceal that.”

Lieberman has been more hawkish than most Democrats, pushing for bigger defense budgets and even supporting a missile defense system. He has long criticized Hollywood and the entertainment industry for peddling violent and sexually explicit movies and games to children.

Lieberman won his third term as Connecticut’s junior Senator in 2000, having previously served the state as attorney general and as Majority Leader of the state Senate.

After his announcement he took questions from students and reporters and then headed to a local diner, the Stamford Diner on Summer Street.