- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2000

The stakes are lower, the site is more remote, and the personalities are distinctly smaller, but both sides in tonight's first and only vice-presidential debate say they are taking the fight seriously.

"It's clearly on another plane than the presidential debates … but this is an important opportunity," said Dan Gerstein, spokesman for Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman. "The convention speech he gave and this debate are the two big platforms he has to go before a national audience, unfiltered, to make the case for [Democratic nominee] Al Gore's leadership and agenda."

Both Mr. Lieberman and his Republican vice-presidential rival, former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney, have been locked in intensive debate preparation since the weekend. The two men will meet tonight at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

Their higher-profile running mates, Mr. Gore and Republican nominee Texas Gov. George W. Bush, met Tuesday night in Boston and will debate twice more this month, in Winston-Salem, N.C., and St. Louis, on Oct. 11 and 17.

Although the audience will likely be smaller than for the first presidential debate, this clash should not be dismissed, Republican pollster and MSNBC news analyst Frank Luntz said.

"Both of them have to demonstrate that they can be just a heartbeat away from the presidency," he said. "They both have to prove they are qualified for the presidency. It's funny, the challenge is the same as for the presidential debates."

Mr. Cheney practiced this week in his native Wyoming, talking to staff and sparring with Rep. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, who is standing in for Mr. Lieberman. Although he has been in government for most of his adult life, Mr. Cheney has been out of elective politics for more than a decade.

His staff say he is ready, although they are tightlipped about Mr. Cheney's specific training and strategy.

"We expect a number of contrasts to be drawn," spokeswoman Juleanna Glover Weiss said. "This will be an opportunity for Secretary Cheney to promote Governor Bush's plans and proposals."

Mr. Lieberman, meanwhile, set up a "training camp" in Richmond, Ky., debating against Washington lawyer Bob Barnett, a veteran of Democratic debate preparation.

"I think you'll have a fairly substantive debate on the issues," Mr. Gerstein said, also declining to be specific about his candidate's strategy. "I think it comes down to how well each one explains why their agenda is better than the other one."

The two men are in some ways similar and in some ways dramatically different.

They are similar in being both well-known and well-respected in Washington, although they are little-known outside the Beltway. They are both known as intelligent, articulate and serious students of policy.

Mr. Lieberman has carved out a reputation in the Senate as a crusader for traditional values and as an independent voice in the Democratic caucus. He has broken with the majority of his colleagues, for example, in supporting school vouchers and changes to Medicare, although he has muted both positions since becoming the vice-presidential nominee.

Mr. Cheney established a reputation in the House and as chief of staff to President Ford as a consensus builder, willing to compromise civilly with Democrats despite his strongly conservative views. Later as secretary of defense, he established a reputation as a plain-spoken straight-shooter who avoided the partisan battles that sometimes consume Cabinet secretaries.

Their respective reputations seem to be reflected in national poll standings for the two candidates among voters who are aware of the candidates, they are overwhelmingly well regarded. A Gallup survey in September showed Mr. Lieberman with a 58 percent favorability rating and only 17 percent unfavorable and Mr. Cheney with a 52 percent favorable rating and 25 percent unfavorable.

But there the similarities end.

Where Mr. Cheney is reserved, cool and terse in public, Mr. Lieberman is effusive and humorous.

Mr. Cheney's speaking style is dry and matter-of-fact and he is given to reading speeches in a monotone. He does have a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor, but it tends to come out mostly in small groups or in highly informal gatherings.

Mr. Lieberman, meanwhile, is given to bursts of wit and emotion. He is prone to tell jokes in crowds, often playing on his Jewish heritage, and he speaks frequently and passionately about his religious faith, a topic Mr. Cheney rarely mentions.

• Andrew Cain contributed to this article.

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