Team Cheney

Daughters Liz and Mary drop everything to help their father campaign not just out of family loyalty but because they believe in the message.

April 01, 2004|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's been a quarter-century since the Cheney family, dog included, piled into an RV and traveled around Wyoming, going from rodeo to small-town parade in that summer of 1978 to urge voters to elect Dick Cheney to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Today, the family is out in full force again, with the vice president's two grown daughters putting aside their careers to devote themselves to their father's political success - Elizabeth Cheney, 37, traveling the country giving speeches for the Bush-Cheney re-election team; Mary Cheney, 35, overseeing her father's vice presidential run.

With political instincts honed over three decades of watching their father navigate the currents of power, the two women have emerged as two of his closest advisers and confidantes, trusted allies fiercely devoted to him and the Bush agenda.

"They're the inner circle - Lynne, Mary and Liz," says former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, a longtime family friend, referring to the vice president's wife and two daughters.

What's more, each of Cheney's two daughters, somewhat incidentally, casts a light on one of the flashpoints of the 2004 presidential campaign - one, a pillar of the administration's foreign policy; the other, the chief cultural clash of the election so far.

Elizabeth, or Liz, Cheney, a mother of three girls who is expecting her fourth child - a boy - was until recently a Middle East specialist at the State Department. There, she led a democratic reform project that became the centerpiece of a Bush drive to remake the Middle East, a goal the White House says will be advanced by the Iraq war.

Mary Cheney, who as head of her father's campaign team earns an after-tax paycheck of $2,776 every two weeks, has tried to stay out of policy debates. But once the president called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, gay leaders seized upon Mary, a lesbian who has worked on outreach to gays and lesbians, posting open letters to her on a Web site pressing her to speak out against such a ban.

It's not something she is likely to do. Cautious in her actions and loyal to her father, Mary, who recently earned an MBA from the University of Denver, stays behind the scenes and generally does not talk to the press on any subject, least of all gay marriage.

"It's difficult to have your personal life be something that people are exploiting," her sister, Liz, says in an interview.

Close-knit family

Vice President Cheney has evolved over the past three years into a sort of dark, mysterious figure, his retreats to "undisclosed locations" a metaphor for the nearly invisible yet powerful role he's played. His family life, too, has been kept largely under wraps, though in some ways it is remarkably ordinary, right down to the iPod the vice president received from his children for Christmas.

By all accounts, the Cheney family is close, with Mary and Liz, who is married to Philip Perry, a lawyer and former general counsel of the Office of Management and Budget, spending much time with their parents, dining together on weekends and even vacationing with them.

Every weekend Dick and Lynne Cheney are in Washington, the three granddaughters - Kate, 9, Elizabeth, 6, and Grace, 4 - spend the night at the vice president's residence. The girls, each of whom has a sleeping bag there with her name on it, sprawl on the floor of their grandparents' bedroom, along with the Cheneys' two Labrador retrievers.

Yet the girls know their lives aren't exactly like everyone else's. Several weeks ago, when Elizabeth, who had just lost a tooth, was heading for a sleepover at the vice president's mansion, she worried that the tooth fairy would be unable to get past all the security.

When one of Kate's friends told her that a Democratic presidential candidate had said something mean about her grandfather on a Sunday talk show, the oldest daughter quipped: "Ah, don't worry about it. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

Even though as children Mary and Liz spent more time in Washington than in Wyoming, with their father serving in the Nixon and Ford administrations and then in Congress before becoming defense secretary for the first President Bush, they consider the West their home. An athletic, outdoorsy family, they all ski (or, in Mary's case, snowboard) and go fly-fishing. Even Kate has taken up the rod and reel.

Mary, a hunting and fishing buddy of her father's, has been working on a novel, a murder mystery set at a fly-fishing camp in Russia that the two once traveled to together.

Ideologically, too, the daughters are generally in sync with their conservative parents.

"There's no question that on the biggest issues facing our country, the president and my dad are proposing a set of solutions that are the right solutions," Liz says. "I am 100 percent behind what they're doing."

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