- The Washington Times - Friday, November 8, 2002

President Bush unofficially kicked off the 2004 presidential campaign yesterday by announcing that Vice President Richard B. Cheney will again be his running mate if the president seeks re-election.
"I'm still recovering from the 2002 elections, and we've got plenty of time to deal with this issue," Mr. Bush said at a wide-ranging press conference in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "But should I decide to run, Vice President Cheney will be my running mate.
"He's done an excellent job," the president said in response to a question from The Washington Times. "I appreciate his advice. I appreciate his counsel. I appreciate his friendship. He is a superb vice president, and there's no reason for me to change."
Reminded that he had to convince a reluctant Mr. Cheney to take the job the first time around, Mr. Bush said: "I'm confident that he will serve another term."
The president also credited Mr. Cheney for helping Republicans sweep to victory in Congress on Tuesday. Despite a history of heart disease, the vice president traveled to more than 70 campaign events and raised more than $40 million for Republicans.
"He was out there toiling along, working hard and turning out the vote," Mr. Bush said. "I want to thank him for the hours he put out there."
Yet Mr. Bush, who also campaigned furiously in the closing weeks of the contest, refused to accept any credit for historic Republican gains in the House and Senate.
"Candidates win elections because they're good candidates, not because they may happen to have the president as a friend or a foe, for that matter," he said. "Some people have given me credit; the credit belongs to the people in the field."
Pressed by reporters on whether he was being too "humble" about his role in the Republican Party's success, Mr. Bush added: "I really don't put this in personal terms.
"I know people in Washington like to do that, you know, 'George Bush won, George Bush lost,'" he said. "That's the way they do it here zero-sum."
He added: "I was proud to help some of them the best I could. But the way you win a race is you convince the people of your state or your district that they can trust your judgment and they can trust your character and they can trust your values, and it takes a lot of work to do that. And these candidates get the credit."
Mindful that Republicans were accused of arrogance after their gains in the 1994 midterm elections, Mr. Bush went out of his way yesterday to "congratulate the men and women Republicans and Democrats who were elected this week."
The president also shrugged off suggestions that the elections gave him a mandate to enact his agenda.
"If there is a mandate in any election at least in this one it's the people want something to get done," he said. "They want people to work together in Washington, D.C., to pass meaningful legislation which will improve their lives."
Although Mr. Bush yesterday refused to gloat over the Republican Party's historic victories, he was clearly pleased with the outcome. For example, when granting a follow-up question to a reporter, he joked: "If the elections had gone a different way, I might not be so generous."
The president's announcement that Mr. Cheney will be his running mate in 2004 signaled what most political observers have long expected that Mr. Bush will seek re-election. It was also aimed at quelling speculation that the president might replace Mr. Cheney with someone who would be groomed as the president's successor in 2008.
Mr. Cheney has expressed no interest in becoming president. Before reluctantly agreeing to serve as vice president, he suffered four heart attacks. In 2001, he had a pacemaker implanted to monitor his heart and adjust its rhythm if necessary.
In addition to praising Republicans in general, Mr. Bush singled out one winner and one apparent loser for special recognition. These were Republican Norm Coleman, who defeated former Vice President Walter F. Mondale in the Minnesota Senate race, and Republican Rep. John Thune, who apparently lost by just 500 votes to incumbent Sen. Tim Johnson, South Dakota Democrat. A recount was almost certain.
"The fact that Norm Coleman ran a very difficult race in difficult circumstances and won speaks volumes about Norm Coleman," the president said. "The fact that John Thune ran a difficult race against difficult circumstances and at this point is still short, nevertheless speaks volumes about his desire and his intention to serve the country."

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