- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Top officials in George W. Bush's campaign yesterday disputed claims by the Democrats and much of the media that Mr. Bush's selection of Richard B. Cheney revealed overconfidence about the outcome of the November election.
"Our view is that we are the underdog running against the incumbent vice president who is presiding over peace and prosperity," Karl Rove, Mr. Bush's chief campaign strategist, told The Washington Times.
Mr. Rove, a disciple of Lee Atwater, who masterminded the senior Bush's 1988 victory over Democrat Michael Dukakis, said Mr. Bush knew throughout the months of vetting potential vice-presidential candidates that the Republican ticket would be in a tight race.
He acknowledged that Mr. Bush leads over Vice President Al Gore in most polls nationally and in some key battleground states that Republicans have failed to win since 1988.
"But we knew and still know we're facing an all-out assault by the Clinton White House, the Democratic Party and all its special-interest allies, from the unions to National Abortion Rights League and you name it," said Mr. Rove.
Mr. Cheney, a former six-term congressman from Wyoming who at 59 is five years older than Mr. Bush, is a man of serious demeanor who has little of the pizzazz or generational appeal some Republicans had expected some even hoped for to anchor the bottom of the Republican ticket.
A trusted friend of both the Texas governor and his father, the former president, Mr. Cheney is being called somewhat dismissively by some in the press "a safe choice."
Mr. Rove, however, said the pragmatic part of Mr. Bush's picking Mr. Cheney is that it will "speak volumes about his judgment and willingness to put the best interests of the country over short-term political gain."
Fred Meyer, the former Texas Republican party chairman whom Mr. Bush dispatched to head the "Victory 2000" committee at the Republican National Committee, also argued that far from indicating complacency, the selection of Mr. Cheney will reassure the crucial swing voter about Mr. Bush's judgment.
"We still see it as a tight race and are doing everything possible to get out the vote with our organizations in every state," Mr. Meyer told The Washington Times.
Without citing figures, Mr. Meyer said his committee would "spend more money than ever before to assure Republican victories across the country, from the courthouse to the White House."
Some political observers with no ties to the Bush campaign agreed that there was a pragmatic component to the selection of Mr. Cheney.
They, too, say that Mr. Bush learned the perils of being overly sanguine. He saw his father go from a 90-plus-percent approval rating after the Gulf war to lose his presidential re-election bid to Bill Clinton in 1992.
"Swing voters independents and disaffected Democrats will be reassured by Cheney, who is qualified for the job has the experience in Washington and in foreign affairs Bush doesn't have," said Charles Cook, an independent political analyst who publishes the Cook Report. "These swing voters are saying they believe Al Gore is qualified. They just don't like him. He never connected with them."
Mr. Cook said Mr. Gore will need to get those swing voters to support him. "In a Bush vs. Gore race, Bush needs to get over the threshold of doubt with swing voters that he is capable. If he does that, he wins. That's where Cheney helps."
The Bush campaign and its surrogates are playing up the idea that, in choosing Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush showed the courage to put good governance over the short-term political gain that a younger, bouncier but less-qualified running mate from a large, battleground state would have provided.
But some Republicans say the most important reason for picking Mr. Cheney was to get a truly unified nominating convention.
Unified conventions tend to produce winning campaigns in the fall. Whether there is a direct causal relationship aside, Republicans were in fact divided at the 1964 convention that nominated Barry Goldwater and at the 1976 convention, when the battle was between the liberal Gerald Ford and the conservative Ronald Reagan. Republicans lost both times. Democrats were divided at their 1968 convention that nominated Hubert H. Humphrey and lost.
Republican consultant Craig Shirley argues that Pat Buchanan's insurgency produced a divided 1992.
"In Cheney, you have a guy who helps Bush reach across ideological lines within the party," he said.
Indeed, Mr. Bush initially made some conservatives skeptical with his emphasis on "compassionate conservatism," which they feared was code for wishy-washy moderation. They changed their minds as they got to know him.
But the choice of what the press and the Democrats had clamored for, Mr. Shirley notes, would have jeopardized unity at this convention: namely, a pro-abortion rights Bush running mate from a populous northeastern state and with a more centrist record.
"This is a more conservative Republican Party with a far narrower ideological gap," he said. "There are no more Rockefeller Republicans in prominence anywhere."
It is also a campaign that at least claims it is determined to get it right this time, after watching the Democrats win the White House in the last two outings.
"We have tried to learn from the mistakes of recent campaigns and to build strong, grass-roots organizations on the ground in the states we haven't won since 1988," said Mr. Rove.
Democrats also said yesterday that Mr. Bush was showing excessive confidence in choosing someone as conservative as Mr. Cheney.
"They attack Cheney as not with the mainstream by citing his voting record in the House," Mr. Rove aid. "That validates looking at the voting record of any running mate Gore picks and of Gore himself."
He warned that it makes fair game of Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin or former Democratic Senate leader George Mitchell's voting records two liberal Democrats Mr. Gore has mentioned as running mates.

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