From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli and NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
CONCORD, NH -- McCain called the endorsement by Joe Lieberman (I/D-CT) a "courageous act," as the Arizona senator makes a last-minute push for independent voters in the Granite State.
McCain joked that he "put on my kneepads" and "kissed the ring" in soliciting Lieberman's support. "I was a little reluctant to ask him, because I didn't want him to do something that may cause any harm to his political future," McCain told reporters in Concord. "I felt it would be impactful in the election otherwise I wouldn't ask for it."
For his part, Lieberman said he thought he'd wait until after the primary to make an endorsement, but responded when McCain asked. "None of the Democratic candidates asked for my support, and John McCain did," he told reporters after announcing his endorsement in Hillsborough.
The "Independent/Democrat" also said McCain is "the strongest candidate on security of all the candidates running." Lieberman added, "Unless the Democratic candidate for president can convince the American people that he or she will protect them in a time of war, they're going to have a hard time getting elected. I worry that Democratic candidates in the primary have been drawn so far left that in the general election, it's going to be hard to convince a lot of people in the middle."
Asked how endorsing a Republican would affect his status in the Democratic caucus, Lieberman said that is "up to the Democratic caucus." "I mean I am an Independent Democrat," he said, adding with a smile: "I am the 51st vote." He also ruled out the possibility of running as McCain's running mate. "I'm happy being a senator," he said.
When a reporter asked McCain if he would run as an Independent if he lost the Republican nomination, the senator joked "maybe as a vegetarian." After a few stammered no's, McCain firmly said, "I could see no way that I would do such a thing like that."
Lieberman also said he would not be interested in running as an Independent for the presidential race if McCain lost the Republican ticket. "I've had my fill of national politics except to occasionally support a candidate."
McCain also denied that he would ask Lieberman to join him as a vice presidential candidate if he were to win the election. Instead, McCain is taking each day one at a time. "We've got a long way to go. I'm not trying to show you exuberance or overconfidence. We've got a long way to go and we'll be working hard."
In Concord, McCain also announced the support of a coalition of Independent voters in New Hampshire. "I believe that we will carry as we did in 2000 an overwhelming majority of independent voters," McCain said.
Polling has shown, however, that most undeclared voters here will choose a Democratic ballot. And with the race between Clinton and Obama tightening significantly in recent weeks, most believe it will continue to be a main attraction for those voters. McCain said he disagreed with that assessment.
"I don't think we are gonna know how the Independents will swing until very shortly before the election," he said. "Part of it also very frankly is how you campaign. I've gotta convince the Independent voters, who might be tending towards voting in the Democratic primary, that it's far more important to vote for me."
McCain also this morning held a town hall meeting at Lincoln Financial Group in Concord, where he touted his streak of newspaper endorsements. "We are on a roll," he said. "Des Moines Register, Boston Globe. Boston Globe and I don't always agree on everything, but I'm appreciative of the fact that they would do that."
McCain touts his own ability to work across the aisle to produce results and believes his record doing so will sway voters his way. At the town hall, McCain repeated that people often ask him why Congress cannot "stop all this bickering and fighting and at least get a budget." "My friends, I'll preserve my conservative credentials," McCain promised, "but I have a history of reaching across the aisle and working with the other party and I will continue to do that. Because you want me to get things done for America."