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Running Mate:  Dick Cheney - 2004-07-09

The naming of Senator John Edwards as the Democratic vice presidential candidate has refocused attention on Vice President Dick Cheney's place on the Republican ticket as he and President Bush campaign for re-election.

With all the media attention on Senator Edwards' boyish good looks and populist appeal, President Bush is not impressed.

When asked how Vice President Dick Cheney compares to the dynamic North Carolina Democrat, Mr. Bush made clear Wednesday there is only one qualification that matters. "Dick Cheney can be president," he responded.

Mr. Bush's presumptive Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, replied that that's part of the problem, suggesting that Dick Cheney has been acting as president all along.

While meant to question Mr. Bush's own leadership, Senator Kerry's criticism highlights Mr. Cheney's considerable experience in Congress, the White House and the Pentagon.

Richard Bruce Cheney was born in 1941 in the western state of Wyoming. He won a full scholarship to Yale University but dropped out because of poor grades and returned home to build power lines and earn enough money to study political science at the University of Wyoming.

Mr. Cheney came to Washington as a junior aide in the Nixon administration before serving as White House Chief of Staff to Gerald Ford. He served 10 years in the House of Representatives as a reliable conservative who supported funding for Nicaraguan Contras and voted against gun control and against sanctions on apartheid South Africa.

As defense secretary under President George Herbert Walker Bush, Mr. Cheney helped shape the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He considered running for president himself but instead took charge of an influential oil-and-gas firm.

Questions about his ties to that firm, Halliburton, have dogged the Bush administration, as a subsidiary of the company won substantial not-competitively-bid Pentagon contracts to support U.S. troops in Iraq, then had to repay part of the money because some of the work was not done.

While President Bush hails political change in Iraq as a spark for democracy in the Middle East, Vice President Cheney regularly delivers the more somber assessment.

Even after the fall of Saddam, Mr. Cheney says it is as clear a responsibility as could ever fall to government to prevent what he calls the ultimate nightmare, a single day of horror that could result in hundreds of thousands of lives lost if terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

"In the post-9/11 era, certain risks are unacceptable," says Mr. Cheney. "The United States made our position clear. We could not accept the grave danger of Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies turning weapons of mass destruction against us or our friends and allies."

Democrats criticize Mr. Cheney for leading Americans to believe there was a working relationship between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, thus linking the invasion of Iraq with the terror of September 11th.

From the White House Cabinet Room to the campaign trail, the vice president continues to push for confronting threats before they strike. "Weakness and drift and vacillation in the face of danger invite attacks," says Mr. Cheney. "Strength and resolve and decisive action defeat attacks before they can arrive on our soil."

Vice President Cheney's health has been something of an issue in the past and is likely to come up again, especially when compared to Senator Edwards, who at 51, is more than 10 years younger. Mr. Cheney has had four heart attacks and now has a surgically-implanted electronic device to control irregular heart rhythms. If his health ever became an issue for the administration, Mr. Cheney says, he would be the first to step down.

"I have, as everyone has known for a long time, been living with coronary artery disease for nearly a quarter of a century now," says the vice president. "That's nothing new. My capacity to function in this job - if the doctors ever conclude that I can't, obviously I'd be the first to step forward and say so."

Following Senator Edwards' announcement, a former Republican senator from New York called on President Bush to drop Vice President Cheney from the run for re-election in favor of either Secretary of State Colin Powell or Arizona Senator John McCain.

The Bush-Cheney campaign says President Bush is proud to have the vice president on the ticket and has no intention of making a change.