- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2004

President Bush, who is publicly eschewing politics until Democrats select a presidential candidate, has dispatched his top surrogates, Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush, to carry his message to conservatives across the country.

Mr. Cheney, who spoke yesterday to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Crystal City, told Bush-Cheney ‘04 supporters that the president has pressed the cause of conservatives on everything from the Patriot Act to the sanctity of human life.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bush, who traveled to the pivotal state of Florida on Wednesday for an education event, has been making the case for her husband in small group meetings and collecting campaign cash at Republican fund-raisers attended by thousands.

The first lady, a former teacher and librarian, puts a softer face on the president’s compassionate-conservative agenda, as she did yesterday at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington.

“You don’t have to wear a badge to rescue someone,” she said. “You don’t have to run for office to change your country. Volunteers are heroes. And through acts of love and kindness, you help build a more compassionate America.”

Mrs. Bush steers clear of most political talk, but she clearly is paying attention to the Democratic fracas.

“We’re watching with great interest like I know the whole country is to see who the Democrats are going to nominate,” she told teachers and reporters at a school in Orlando. “Last week, we thought it was going to be — and then this week — no,” she said, drawing laughter.

Mr. Cheney, on the other hand, is a direct stand-in for the president at various conservative conclaves across the country. Yesterday, he even stole a line from Mr. Bush’s State of the Union address when he told the mostly young Republican crowd: “There is a difference between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few,” he said, referring to international reluctance to support the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

“America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country,” he said.

Although he was ridiculed by late-night talk show hosts for spending much of the past two years in an “undisclosed location,” Mr. Cheney recently has been everywhere. In the past 10 days, he spent four days out West, making speeches and raising campaign donations in California, Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. Today, he leaves for Davos, Switzerland, where he will seek to meet political leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum and ask for their help in rebuilding Iraq. He also will have an audience with the pope in Rome.

He knows that he is not the most dazzling speaker — he joked yesterday that it was difficult being seated next to the speaker of the House at the State of the Union address not to draw attention because “when you put Dick Cheney next to Denny Hastert, it’s hard to contain all that charisma.”

And in recent days, the vice president has taken up the cause of defending the Bush administration’s claim that the Iraqi dictator had a vast program to construct weapons of mass destruction.

In a radio interview aired yesterday, Mr. Cheney said the United States had not given up on finding unconventional weapons.

“The jury is still out,” he said. “It’s going to take some additional considerable period of time to look at all of the cubbyholes and … dumps and all the places in Iraq where you might expect to find something like that.”

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