- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — President Bush’s advisers, seeking to keep Sen. John Kerry on the defensive, yesterday said they would continue criticizing his reference to the sexual orientation of Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter.

Mr. Bush did his part to keep the story alive by expressing his displeasure with the Massachusetts Democrat for invoking Mary Cheney’s homosexuality at Wednesday’s presidential debate.

“The president does not believe it was appropriate,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Mr. Kerry found himself on the defensive in an interview yesterday with CNN’s Candy Crowley, who asked about the flap half a dozen times. It was the second day in a row Mr. Kerry was forced to address the issue, which has overshadowed what pundits otherwise regarded as his strong showing in the third and final debate.

Asked by moderator Bob Schieffer whether homosexuality is a choice, Mr. Kerry said: “If you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was. She’s being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it’s not a choice.”

Yesterday, Mr. Kerry said: “It was meant as a very constructive comment, in a positive way.”

He added: “I think it was a way of saying, look, she’s who she is. I have great respect for her.”

But Mr. Kerry again stopped short of apologizing for the remark.

Asked whether the president thinks Mr. Kerry should apologize, Mr. McClellan said: “That’s something for Senator Kerry to decide.”

Bush officials were particularly incensed at Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Kerry running mate Sen. John Edwards, for accusing Mr. Cheney’s wife, Lynne, of feeling “shame with respect to her daughter’s sexual preferences.”

“Ooh, I think that’s a campaign gaffe we’ll be talking about for a long time,” said Nicolle Devenish, communications director for the Bush campaign. “I think that just exposed an ugliness on the Democratic ticket.

“I mean, that’s her belief? That’s an ugly belief,” she added. “These are ugly words coming from a very negative campaign.”

The Bush campaign believes the flap will rebound to the president’s benefit on the issue of homosexual “marriage.” Mr. Bush supports a constitutional ban on homosexual “marriage,” while Mr. Kerry voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“He probably elevated the discussion, because you can’t respond to questions about Mary Cheney without reminding people about his votes outside the mainstream of his own party, against DOMA,” Mrs. Devenish said of Mr. Kerry.

Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade suggested the lesbian flap was a smoke screen.

“The Bush team continues to say anything to distract from George Bush’s failure in three presidential debates and from his abysmal record over four years,” he said. “Their rhetorical meltdown politicizes a comment made out of genuine respect for the Cheney family.”

Mr. Wade pointed out that when Mr. Edwards referred to Miss Cheney’s lesbianism during the vice presidential debate, Mr. Cheney politely thanked him before falling silent.

“But now that the political heat of three debates is causing the Bush campaign to sweat, they’re back on the attack,” he added.

Mrs. Devenish said the Bush campaign did not criticize Mr. Kerry until his campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill, said after Wednesday’s debate that Miss Cheney was “fair game.”

“The first two times it was mentioned by John Edwards and John Kerry, we didn’t really say anything,” she said. “It was really Mary Beth Cahill going out and calling Mary Cheney ‘fair game’ that made it clear it was a political strategy, [a] political calculation.”

As for Mr. Kerry’s insistence that he was just trying to be “positive,” Bush aides said he is being disingenuous.

“I don’t think voters will buy it,” Mrs. Devenish said. “For a candidate wrestling with a perilously negative image in the voters’ minds to play slash-and-trash politics with the vice president’s daughter is just something he’s going to pay a political price for.”

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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