Next week's Republican convention will re-nominate Vice President Dick Cheney to serve another four years in office.

President Bush says Dick Cheney is the finest vice president the nation has ever seen. He has heard all about how Democrats chose a younger, more charismatic running mate as an alternative to Mr. Cheney, but the president says this is not a beauty contest.

"I'm proud to be running with Dick Cheney. Now listen, I admit to you, he's not the prettiest one in the race," said Mr. Bush. "I didn't pick him for his looks. I picked him for his judgment and experience. I picked him because he can get the job done."

Richard Bruce Cheney has been getting the job done in Washington for more than 40 years. He rose from a junior aide in the Nixon Administration to become the youngest White House chief of staff in history at the age of 34 for President Gerald Ford.

Mr. Cheney spent ten years in Congress representing the state of Wyoming as one of the Reagan Administration's most reliable social conservatives.

Together with his wife Lynne, his high school sweetheart, the Cheneys quickly emerged as a leading Republican power couple.

Mr. Cheney was secretary of defense for President George Herbert Walker Bush during the 1990 Persian Gulf War. Ten years later, Mr. Cheney's experience with the Iraqi leader put him at the forefront of the administration's campaign to topple Saddam Hussein and link him to the attacks of September 9/11.

"Saddam Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction poses a grave danger not only to his neighbors but also to the United States. His regime aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida," he said.

Eighteen months after the fall of Baghdad, no weapons of mass destruction have yet been found.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," said Mr. Bush.

With the president on the campaign trail defending the invasion, Vice President Cheney is on the offensive, criticizing the Democratic Party opponents, both of whom voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

"Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are criticizing the president for looking at the same information they did and coming to the same conclusion they did," he noted. "If the president was right, and he was, then they are simply trying to rewrite history for their own political purposes."

Democratic Party opponents say the vice president has too much influence in the Bush White House.

But analyst John Fortier with the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington D.C. says the war on terrorism has put to rest visions of a puppet presidency with Mr. Cheney pulling the strings.

"I think 9/11 really cemented the idea that Bush is a strong leader," he noted. "Cheney is certainly a very important person, probably the most important adviser to the president and one who even if it were politically helpful to George Bush, he wouldn't want to get rid of because of his help in everyday matters of advising and then the war on terror. So I think Cheney is a key person, but he doesn't overshadow Bush."

Before joining the Bush team, Mr. Cheney earned more than $44 million as chief of the oil and gas services company Halliburton.

That firm has won up to $18 billion worth of contracts in Iraq, some of which are under investigation by Pentagon auditors for more than $16 million in over-billing for feeding troops.

The vice president says he has nothing to do with Halliburton's Army contracting.

"Nobody has produced one single shred of evidence that there is anything wrong or inappropriate here," he said.

In a campaign where the president is looking for swing voters with traditional Democratic issues of Medicare and education, Vice President Cheney plays more to the conservative side of the "compassionate conservative" agenda from abortion to school prayer to gun control.

But the famously loyal vice president publicly disagrees with his boss on at least one issue, gay marriage.

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with," he explained.

The Cheney's daughter, Mary, helps run the campaign.

"With respect to question of relationships, my general view is that freedom means freedom for everyone," he noted.

That is at odds with the president's call for a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage.

"At this point, say, my own preference is as I've already stated, but the president makes basic policy for the administration," he added.

The White House says President Bush respects his running mate's views and dismisses Washington rumors of a possible split between the men as campaign hysteria in a particularly tight race.