- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2000

George W. Bush has jumped to a 14-point lead in the polls since selecting Richard B. Cheney as his running mate, despite a fierce, coordinated attack by Democrats seeking to paint the former defense secretary as a right-wing extremist.
A new USA Today/CNN Gallup poll of more than 600 likely voters taken after Mr. Bush's selection showed the Texas governor leading Vice President Al Gore 54 percent to 40 percent. Just a week ago, Mr. Bush was only two points ahead of Mr. Gore in the Gallup poll.
Mr. Bush said attacks by Democrats, who have said Mr. Cheney is more conservative than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and complained about many of his votes as a six-term congressman from Wyoming, have failed.
"Secretary Cheney brought people together and helped win a war which stands in stark contrast to Vice President Gore who tends to divide people to create political war.
"They're doing their level best to tear people down, but they're not going to succeed," Mr. Bush said.
Democrats have orchestrated a coordinated attack in the media on Mr. Cheney, saying he is a throwback to the Reagan-Bush years. They have also criticized his House years, when he voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, a ban on armor-piercing bullets and supported President Reagan's veto of the Clean Water Act.
Some Republicans said they were worried about the attacks.
"I have some concerns about what may happen between now and the election," said Betty Holmes, a Republican National Committee member from Kentucky. "Democrats and liberal media outlets may succeed in painting Cheney as an extremist" even though such attacks are, in her view, "silly and ridiculous."
But many said the attacks failed.
Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer labeled as "nonsense" criticisms by several conservative commentators that while Mr. Gore and his surrogates showed they had done their homework and managed to throw everything at Mr. Cheney including the kitchen sink Republicans had left Mr. Cheney unprepared to counter.
"Democrats are at risk," Mr. Fleischer said. "Their kitchen sinks are going to come back and hit them. The more negative and divisive [Mr. Gore] gets, the worse he looks and does.
"So this whole notion is false that, one, the Democrats' attack will work, and two, that we didn't anticipate it and respond the right way," Mr. Fleischer said.
Mr. Fleischer argued that it never really mattered whom Mr. Bush chose as running mate. "They had dossiers on John McCain, John Danforth and all our possible [vice-presidential] nominees, and Gore was going to attack, attack, attack."
In Philadelphia, however, where thousands of Republicans are assembling for the Republican National Convention that will formally nominate Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, some party officials were as prepared as the Democrats with their talking points on the subject.
"What a shock we nominated a conservative for vice president," said former Republican National Committee General Counsel David Norcross. "Not only that, [Mr. Cheney] had the temerity to vote against the horrible tax bill that [President] Reagan supported in 1986. Cheney was consistently conservative even on the few times Reagan was not."
Sam Daniels, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, said, "If you're going to talk about the votes he made 20 years ago, let's talk about Al Gore. He was pro-life, anti-gun control, and pro-tobacco back then."
Republican campaign strategists are confident that Mr. Cheney would only further solidify the Republican electoral base for Mr. Bush and that the challenge coming out of next week's convention would be to win over enough of the independent voters to defeat Mr. Gore.
On that front, independent pollster John Zogby said his surveys bring good news for Mr. Bush.
Even though his latest poll of independent voters shows them more inclined toward Mr. Bush's positions on issues like abortion and gun control than toward Mr. Gore's, however, Mr. Zogby said, "It would be a stretch to say that self-identified independent voters, who will decide the November elections, share a propensity for Mr. Cheney."
Whether they end up seeing him as a plus for Mr. Bush will depend on whether the Democrats or Republicans prevail in the current spin battle, Mr. Zogby said.
Nonetheless, he noted, "fewer voters are pro-choice on abortion than before and what is even more surprising to me, fewer independents are pro-choice than before. But to conclude they will support someone who is opposed to abortion without exception is another matter."
Mr. Bush has said he opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. Mr. Cheney personally endorses no exceptions but said he will support Mr. Bush's position as a vice-presidential candidate.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett said, "I think Cheney is an excellent fit." Mr. Bennett defended the selection of Mr. Cheney, saying he "has built a reputation as a bipartisan politician… . His votes 15-20 years ago aren't germane to this situation."
Mr. Norcross, from liberal Gov. Christine Todd Whitman's New Jersey, said, "Cheney's a great fit for this party he's not an ideologue.
"The Democrats are saying he had a Reagan voting record during the Reagan years well, Reagan carried New Jersey twice," Mr. Norcross added with a there-you-go-again smile.
In the USA Today/CNN Gallup poll, Mr. Bush was given an advantage on several issues including world affairs, taxes, the budget surplus and the economy. Mr. Gore had an edge on health care and the environment. They were about even on Social Security and education.
Those surveyed said by a 2-to-1 margin that Mr. Bush has the personal qualities needed in a president. People were evenly split on whether Mr. Gore had them.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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