If a few votes had shifted eight years ago, Joe Lieberman might now be the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
Instead, the Connecticut senator, who won re-election in 2006 as an independent, is one of Republican John McCain's more potent political weapons, maybe even potent enough to make another run at vice president, this time as a Republican.
Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, chuckles at the idea, but doesn't rule it out.
“I am not a candidate. I am not interested in doing that,” he told ABC News last month, though he wouldn't remove himself unequivocally.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Lieberman, who long ago broke with Democrats on the Iraq war but has a solid party-line voting record on nearly everything else, is playing such a key role in McCain's White House bid that a VP bid is possible.
Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg called Lieberman a “near perfect pick.” Steve Clemons, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a centrist public policy group, said such a move would be “game changing.”
McCain could boast that he's the true change agent – a slap at presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama's “change” theme – by showing he's willing to reach across the partisan divide for a ticket mate.
Lieberman offers other advantages, analysts said, such as:
Temperament. Lieberman's calm manner could be a soothing contrast to the fiery McCain.
Background. Lieberman's past was scrutinized thoroughly when he ran eight years ago.
Florida. Lieberman has long been a favorite of the state's elderly Jewish voters. “Elections in Florida tend to be close, and he'd have some effect,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a professor of public administration and policy at Florida State University.
But there also are compelling reasons that Lieberman isn't likely to be on the ticket, notably that McCain already is having trouble convincing committed Republican conservatives that he's one of them.
“I suspect they would go crazy,” said Timothy Walch, an Iowa-based author and vice presidential expert, “though I suspect in the end the conservatives would vote for McCain.”
Then there's the age issue: Lieberman is 66, and McCain's 71. Cracks about the “geriatric” Republican ticket might enhance the appeal of Obama, who's a youthful-looking 47.
Even so, Lieberman is already a ubiquitous McCain champion. He recently touted McCain's Iraq position at a Senate news conference, then defended McCain's ad tying Obama to celebrities Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. “The point of the ad is quite strong,” Lieberman said. “Who's ready to lead America?”
If they team up now, the possibilities for mayhem seem boundless: a Democrat with a long history of backing abortion rights being cheered by a Republican convention throng next month? The Democratic chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee working to promote Republican policies this fall? A Republican vice presidential nominee who sits in on private Democratic Senate strategy sessions every Tuesday?
Experts agree on at least one aspect of a possible Lieberman run.
“It would be entertaining,” said the University of New Hampshire's Andrew Smith.