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Pledging to renew the American dream for the middle class by rising above partisan politics, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., today announced his candidacy for president in 2004.

“I intend to win,” Lieberman told an audience of students and supporters at Stamford High School in Stamford, Conn., where he served as president of his class in 1959 and graduated in 1960.

Lieberman said he came to appreciate “the miracle of America” in this town where his parents worked their way into the middle class and where he learned that “if you work hard and play by the rules, you can go as far as your God-given talents will take you.”

“Today the American dream is in danger, threatened by terrorists and tyrants from abroad and a weak economy that makes it harder to live a better life here at home,” he said. “For too many Americans the middle class is drifting out of reach. In fact, over the past two years, 2.8 million people have lost their jobs. And instead of joining the middle class, 1.3 million people have fallen into poverty.”

Describing President Bush as being driven by “extreme ideologues in the administration” and beholden to “major financial interests,” Lieberman claimed promises made during his 2000 campaign were not kept.

He criticized the $674 billion economic stimulus plan Bush unveiled last week, declaring “nobody thinks [the dividend tax cut] will stimulate the economy” and “it will put the United States further in debt.” He also said the president’s fiscal stimulus plan wouldn’t be spent this year when it’s needed and asserted his own $150 billion plan would consist of targeted tax breaks that would take effect this year.

Lieberman pledged to “bring back the prosperity of the Clinton-Gore era.”

Calling himself “a different kind of Democrat,” the 60-year-old repeatedly vowed to “rise above partisan politics” to push an agenda through Congress that includes “strengthening homeland security while protecting Social Security,” “healing the racial divide,” making health care more affordable and available, fixing failing schools and making college more affordable.

“I have supported now for a couple of years, a tax deduction of up to $10,000 a year for the cost of a college education,” he said.

On the international front, Lieberman offered support for Bush’s approach with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but said the administration has mishandled the North Korean situation, particularly by taking the military option off the table when dealing with the “dictatorial regime.”

With an eye toward more conservative voters, the senator also said the Republican Party does not have a monopoly on values and faith and told reporters he’s not adverse to invoking the name of God from time to time.

Political analysts see Lieberman aiming to be the “McCain of the Democratic Party,” seeking the Independent-leaning voters.

Fox News reports the Orthodox Jew earned the admiration of “morality czar” William Bennett, who issues the “Silver Sewer Awards” for offensive media content.

Responding to a question about bigotry, Lieberman said he felt Americans were “too smart and too aware of how tough the times are to judge a candidate for president on anything other than his or her record, ability and ideas and values.”

Lieberman came to the Senate in 1996 after serving as Connecticut’s attorney general for six years and as a state senator for ten years. He served as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and is a member of the Senate Armed Services committee.

He elevated his political profile as Al Gore’s running mate in the 2000 election.

“I was proud to join with Al Gore in a great fight for America’s families and their future. And I am also proud to say that Al and I got a half million more votes than our opponents, and we actually got more votes than any Democratic ticket in history,” he boasted.

Lieberman said he will file the necessary papers with the Federal Election Committee to form a campaign committee legally able to begin fund-raising. He told reporters he intends to continue serving as senator during his presidential campaign.

He joins a crowded field of Democratic candidates. There are six men already in the race, including Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Another half dozen may also declare their candidacy in the weeks to come.

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