A low profile profits GOP

Cheney: The popular vice president's low-key, all-business approach and fund-raising success make him invaluable to Bush and the Republican Party.

July 02, 2002|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

RALEIGH, N.C. - Flanked by a Republican congresswoman who flew here aboard his jet, Vice President Dick Cheney emerges from the plane and greets the North Carolina airport crowd with a wave.

Except there is no crowd, and no local news crews, either. On Cheney's orders, his arrivals and departures are always closed to the public and the press. The only person capturing the moment for posterity - or the congresswoman's campaign advertising - is an official White House photographer.

This election season, Cheney is traveling the country, raising millions of dollars in the fight for control of Congress. It is traditional vice-presidential political duty, but Cheney is performing it in a nontraditional way, with little fanfare and even less wasted effort.

White House and party officials say Cheney is easily the best campaign money-raiser Republicans have, other than President Bush. Three dozen fund-raising events featuring the vice president have yielded a total of about $12 million this year. Cheney is expected to appear at more than 70 events in all by Election Day, aides say.

"He's a huge sell out there," said Ken Mehlman, the White House political director. "People love hearing him. They love to come to see him."

Republicans say they find Cheney's presence at the center of power reassuring, particularly at this time of uncertainty.

"What a secure feeling it is. ... He's got this calm demeanor," said Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte, N.C., who accompanied him on Air Force Two.

"The party faithful always turns out for a vice president, but Cheney is different," said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. "A lot of Republicans regard him with something bordering on reverence."

Cheney's low-key style eliminates any danger that he'll overshadow Bush. It also is in line with the 61-year-old's personal manner, which has never been described as charismatic.

His political appearances usually include a stump speech, which lasts about 20 minutes and seldom makes national news. Cheney echoes the administration line, which he helps shape as Bush's most valuable adviser, while taking care not to upstage the president. Some of the most vivid language he uses is lifted from Bush's addresses.

In recent appearances, Cheney has called for making Bush's tax cuts permanent and warned against excessive spending by Congress. The bulk of his remarks are usually devoted to the war on terrorism and the potential threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Sometimes he tosses in a laugh line, cracking that when he left government a decade ago, "I was certain my time in public office had passed. I was even thinking about growing a beard."

That reference to Al Gore is about as openly partisan as it gets these days with Cheney, who has chastised Democratic critics for seeking political advantage "in a time of war."

Cheney is as efficient as he is self-effacing. He almost never sticks around a fund-raising event for the meal or long-winded speeches by other politicians. He also avoids working the room, skipping the table-hopping, back-slapping and flesh-pressing that other candidates relish and contributors have come to expect.

"He's always been like that, whether it's to protect his heart or because he really doesn't enjoy it," says a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House. "He just doesn't do a lot of schmoozing."

The brevity of Cheney's appearances "has caused some unhappiness" among donors eager for a longer visit, adds the strategist, who spoke on the condition he not be identified. But "in the end, people are glad he came anyway."

When Cheney flew to Harrisburg, Pa., for a fund-raising luncheon for Rep. George W. Gekas last month, the traffic jam caused by his motorcade lasted longer than the visit. For 10 minutes, Cheney posed backstage for pictures with a select number of big donors.

Then he gave a 15-minute speech and was gone.

He left behind more than $200,000 for Gekas' campaign, a record amount for a congressional fund-raiser in central Pennsylvania, according to Republican officials.

Cheney, by all accounts the most influential vice president in history, has had much White House heavy lifting delegated to him by Bush. He has been a key member of Bush's war Cabinet and has played a central role in overseeing the homeland security effort. When it comes to significant administration decisions both foreign and domestic, Cheney is inevitably on the winning side.

At the same time, he hasn't been stuck with trivial vice presidential chores. He fills in for Bush at Washington events from time to time but has yet to be sent to represent the president at a ceremonial event such as the funeral of a foreign dignitary.

"You die, we fly," Bush's father liked to joke when he served as vice president under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Cheney's only overseas tour was to the Middle East, for diplomatic talks this spring.

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