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Home-State GOPers Hail Lieberman Speech

Nutmeg State Republicans have a message for Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.): Come back anytime.

It’s a far cry from how Lieberman’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate were talking about him Wednesday, the day after he spoke to the Republican National Convention in favor of his preferred presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia, an alternate delegate to the RNC, said Wednesday that as far as he’s concerned, “there’s no tension” between Lieberman and the Connecticut GOP delegation.

“I think the main point is that you don’t always agree with everybody all the time,” said Moccia, who went to high school with the Senator. “But Joe Lieberman is standing up for what he believes in, putting his country above party, and I respect him for that.”

Members of the GOP delegation said they had yet to see Lieberman this week in St. Paul, Minn., other than when he spoke from the podium at the Xcel Energy Center. But from a bustling convention floor hours before Lieberman’s Tuesday evening speech, the excitement among Connecticut’s GOP delegates was building.

“I think we’re all familiar with our junior Senator from Connecticut,” said Michael Rea, a delegate from Westport. “And while many of us don’t always agree with him on every issue, again we appreciate his support of the ticket. I think it means a lot for John McCain and I know it means a lot to Connecticut as we go into the final stretch.”

Several hours after his convention speech, Lieberman was almost poetic Wednesday during a panel at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Sitting back in a chestnut leather chair, Lieberman discussed what a McCain foreign policy might look like to a standing-room-only audience of about 250.

“If Hubert Humphrey was still a leader in the Democratic Party, I would not be at this convention,” Lieberman said. “It was a combination I grew up with of progressive domestic government and very principled, muscular foreign policy.”

With his arms reached across his chest, Lieberman talked about how the Democratic Party has left him — and not vice versa — when it comes to foreign policy. He tapped his fingertips for emphasis.

“People say to me, particularly this week, ‘How is it you could be the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000 and now you’re here supporting a Republican candidate for president eight years later?’” Lieberman said. “Obviously, part of it is John McCain. … But part of it is on some critical issues to me and I think to our country, the Democratic Party has changed. It was only eight years ago that the Clinton/Gore administration was deeply committed to free trade.”

Former Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) said he last saw Lieberman at a packed Chamber of Commerce event in August that was organized by a local Democrat. Simmons recalled giving him a standing ovation, then Lieberman saying to him: “I still can’t get over it when the first person to stand and applaud is a Republican and not a Democrat.”

However, Simmons also acknowledged in a phone interview Wednesday that some Democrats despise Lieberman and not every Republican feels comfortable with him.

“He’s probably not fully trusted by the Republican Party,” Simmons said. “But he is fully trusted by Sen. John McCain.”

Still, Republicans are appreciative enough of Lieberman these days that there’s talk about putting him on their ballot if he runs for re-election in 2012. Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination in 2006, but won a fourth term as an Independent Democrat in the general election with substantial support from Connecticut Republicans.

Simmons, however, said his conversations with Lieberman have indicated that he would remain a Democrat.

“I think in my discussions with Sen. Lieberman he’s always made it clear that he’s comfortable as a Democrat,” Simmons said. “I think he’s comfortable being a Democrat, but he’s not comfortable being a partisan Democrat who plays his party’s interests over the interests of the country.”

But from the convention floor Tuesday evening, Frederick Biebel — a veteran of every GOP convention since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president — said he would wait and see if Lieberman would stay in the Senate until 2012 before expressing an opinion on whether Republicans should nominate him for another term.

“Well, it all depends what happens when McCain wins,” Biebel said. “I would hope Joe would go into the administration.”