NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Al Gore is launching a historic Democratic ticket with Sen. Joseph Lieberman and his "real sense of awe," hoping to surge into his nominating convention with a burst of energy and the moral high ground.
The new allies huddled privately, setting the stage for a colorful campaign rally to unveil the ticket. They were quickly headed for a nostalgic swing through Gore's hometown and Lieberman's home state.
With his decision, Gore drew some of the clearest distinctions with President Clinton by picking one of the president's sharpest Democratic critics, and his strategists made it clear the pick was based heavily on Lieberman's respected moral and religious standing.
It was an effort to buttress Gore against Republican efforts to tarnish
Gore with the sex scandals that have swirled around Clinton, a central theme of last week's Republican convention.
Lieberman also brings the first Jewish running mate to a major party ticket in history.
"If you look at the two, you can see a natural bonding that occurred,' said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane. "They are both very, very strong family men. They are two people who feel faith should play an important part of their lives."
Republicans quickly sought to find differences they can exploit between Gore and Lieberman, differences on issues like Social Security and school vouchers that both Democrats dismissed.
For his part, Gore said he wanted to wait for his formal announcement before talking about the fine points. "You'll have a chance to discuss specific details in some detail."
Lieberman found more similarities than differences.
"Al Gore and I have pretty much walked the same path, and when we've had disagreements they've been good-faith disagreements, never disagreements that touch our values," said Lieberman.
Interviewed Tuesday on NBC, Gore said his selection was telling because it signaled how his administration would be shaped. He cited his own "productive partnership" with President Clinton, saying it has brought him unprecedented responsibilities, saying Lieberman would play a similar role.
With his selection, Gore picked a moderate Democrat from a reliably Democratic state. Most polls have shown Republican rival George W. Bush building a lead in the wake of the Republican National Convention, and Gore is hoping to seize attention and galvanize support heading into next week's Democratic convention.
Republicans have also sought to tie Gore to Clinton, particularly Clinton's relationship with a White House intern. Lieberman was one of the earliest and sharpest Democratic critics of Clinton's behavior.
He's also been a sharp critic of Clinton-Gore fund-raising tactics and has teamed up with conservative Republicans to criticize sex and violence in the entertainment industry.
Analysts were split on whether Gore's tactic would work, as Gore walks a tightrope facing every vice president running on his own — breaking with the boss.
California-based Democratic consultant Bill Carrick said Republicans are certain to remind voters of Clinton's actions and Lieberman can at least distance Gore from the controversy.
If Clinton was unhappy with the choice, there was no public evidence.
"I think it's wonderful," said Clinton. "He's been a wonderful friend to me."
By picking a Jewish running mate, Gore raised the potential that religion could be an issue for the first time since the nation elected its first Catholic president in John Kennedy in 1960.
"I'm confident I won't be judged on my faith," said Lieberman.
But Lieberman's devout faith will play at least some role in the campaign, because it generally prohibits him from campaigning on Saturday.
"Obviously we're going to be very, very respectful of their religion," said Lehane. "Having a day off is probably a good thing for all of us."
"Faith is part of me," said Lieberman. "It's been at the center of who I've been all my life."
Gore and Lieberman planned a tour of Midwestern battleground states before heading to the convention in Los Angeles next week for a ceremonial passing of the torch from Clinton, who is scheduled to speak Monday and leave town before the new team arrives.
Gore hoped to capture campaign attention and magnify a poll "bounce" from his convention.
Notwithstanding the hubbub surrounding the selection, some noted that the election is not likely to turn on the running mate in either party.
"In the end, people are going to vote for a president, not a vice president," said Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs.