- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

President Bush denies reports that he plans to replace his vice president on the 2004 ticket, delighting staunch conservatives and emboldening Democrats who plan to make him the target of their special-interest charges.

The president said in November 2002 that Dick Cheney would be his running mate again, but recent reports have mused about Mr. Cheney’s imminent replacement. The reports have become so numerous that Mr. Bush addressed them — humorously — in his speech Monday to the Republican Governors Association.

“Once again I put him in charge of my vice-presidential search committee. He tells me he’s reviewed all the candidates, and he’s come back with the same recommendation as last time.”

Turning serious, Mr. Bush said: “In fact, I made the choice myself, and I have taken the measure of this man. They don’t come any better, and I am proud to have Dick Cheney by my side.”

Americans are split regarding their feelings toward the Nebraska native, who has a 35-year career in public service. Polls by Time/CNN showed 43 percent in favor of Mr. Cheney staying and 42 percent preferring him off the ticket.

While Mr. Cheney, 63, brought something important to the last contest — namely, gravitas for a Texas governor considered weak on foreign policy — this year’s race will find the former congressman from Wyoming a prime target.

Chief among the points of attack will be Mr. Cheney’s affiliation with Halliburton Inc., the Texas company he once ran that was awarded billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to rebuild Iraq.

“Already under investigation for illegally revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent, the Bush administration’s scandals grew in scope this week with the announcement that Dick Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton, is now under a criminal probe,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe said yesterday in a statement.

Mr. Cheney brings other baggage as well. His energy task force, which caused a flap when he refused to identify its members, moved back into the headlines when Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia refused to recuse himself from the case after he joined Mr. Cheney on a weeklong duck hunt.

But Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster, said this year’s election will be no different from the last regarding the Cheney attacks.

“The Democrats have tried repeatedly to play their class warfare of we’re the party of the rich, the party of big business, the party of big oil, and they use Cheney as a vehicle to point that out, but except for the hard-core, die-hard Democrats, I just don’t see it resonating at all,” he said.

Mr. Cheney has his assets as well. He is popular among the Republican base, whom Mr. Bush has irritated with his immigration proposal, federal spending bills and initial hesitation to support a constitutional amendment against same-sex “marriage.”

“His strengths greatly outweigh his liabilities,” one senior administration official said.

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