ATLANTA - Al Gore and newly named running mate Joseph Lieberman hit back Thursday at Republican George W. Bush's portrayal of the Clinton-Gore era as one of "squandered opportunities" and "coasting" by the Democrats.
At a rally in downtown Atlanta, the Democratic presidential ticket's first appearance outside their respective home states, the vice president ticked off a list of the administration's accomplishments during the past eight years, from restoring the economy to reducing crime to reforming welfare.
"If that's coasting, let's coast another four years," Mr. Gore said to thundering applause from roughly 2,000 people who jammed a mini-amphitheater at Centennial Olympic Park.
Mr. Gore announced his selection of Mr. Lieberman on Tuesday, making him the first Jewish candidate from a major party on a national ticket. Democrats hope the Connecticut senator's moderate record and outspoken condemnation of President Clinton's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky will attract independent voters.
Appealing to Georgia voters, Gov. Roy Barnes introduced Mr. Lieberman as "a northern Sam Nunn," comparing him to the former four-term Georgia senator renowned for his moderate brand of Democratic politics.
Mr. Lieberman, too, took exception to Mr. Bush's characterization of the Clinton administration in the Texas governor's acceptance speech at last week's Republican convention in Philadelphia.
"Our opponents like to say that the past eight years have been squandered," Mr. Lieberman said to a chorus of boos from the crowd. "If you're one of the people working in one of the 22 million jobs that have been created in this country since 1993, these haven't been squandered years."
But Republicans argue that the Democrats are taking credit for economic progress that came only after the GOP captured control of Congress in the 1994 elections.
"This administration never submitted a balanced budget until the Republicans supported it," U.S. Rep. John Linder, R-Tucker, said after Thursday's rally. "They have no business taking credit for it."
Likewise, the president became an eleventh-hour supporter of welfare reform after rejecting earlier reform bills drafted by Republicans, Bush campaign spokesman Dan Bartlett said.
"The Clinton-Gore administration resisted welfare reform at every turn and only signed it when faced with a backlash at the polls during the 1996 election," he said.
But Mr. Gore didn't limit his remarks Thursday to past accomplishments. He also talked about what he wants to do as president, including raising the minimum wage, boosting federal spending for education, reforming health care by taking medical decisions away from HMO bureaucrats and entrusting them to doctors, and providing prescription-drug coverage for seniors through Medicare.
He warned that Mr. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security by allowing Americans to divert some of their payroll tax payments into the stock market is risky.
"Stock market investments are based on the idea that the economy is going to be as good in the future as it has been for the last eight years," he said. "Even if it's strong, there are going to be some good investments and bad investments."
The vice president's message played well with his partisan audience.
"I loved what he said about Social Security," said Denise Hill of Stone Mountain, a member of Communications Workers of America Local 3204, based in Atlanta. "The Democratic Party has done a great job the past eight years. The Republicans had us in a recession."
Matthew Woodall of Jonesboro praised Mr. Gore's call for improving education by demanding stricter student accountability, modernizing schools and treating teachers in the same manner as professionals.
"I don't believe (Republicans) care one thing about public education," Mr. Woodall said. "Their interests are ... with wealthy, exclusive private schools."
During portions of his speech, Mr. Gore was forced to compete with protesters chanting anti-death penalty slogans. Activists also handed out leaflets opposing U.S. sanctions against Iraq, while a volunteer with the Green Party passed out leaflets urging voters to write in consumer activist Ralph Nader for president.
Mr. Nader, the Greens' nominee, will be on the ballot in many states but didn't get enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot in Georgia.
In the rally's lone bipartisan moment, Mr. Gore paid tribute to Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia, who died last month, and extended his condolences to the senator's family.
"Paul Coverdell was a dedicated public servant who brought something to politics that we really need today, and that is courtesy and civility," Mr. Gore said.
Mr. Gore, Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Barnes shared the stage with three other Southern governors: James Hunt of North Carolina, Don Siegelman of Alabama and Paul Patton of Kentucky. The four governors met privately with the soon-to-be nominees before the rally, briefing them on Mr. Gore's prospects in their states and outlining the issues of greatest importance to their constituents.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.