Cheney: They Like The Guy

Vice President Dick Cheney speaks during a town hall meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2004 in Davenport, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) AP

CBSNews.com producer Jarrett Murphy reports from Republican National Convention in New York City.
Despite being unpopular in polls and a magnet for Democratic criticism, Vice President Dick Cheney enjoys solid support from Republicans of all stripes who see him an a selfless servant with a firm hand.

Republicans from Rhode Island to Illinois, Indiana to Vermont hailed Cheney's decades of experience in government. Conservatives and liberals alike praised his no-frills, no-nonsense approach as an asset, not a flaw.

"He is the rock of Gibraltar," said Melissa Brown, U.S House candidate from Pennsylvania

And Republicans across the board looked forward to a head-to-head debate with the Democratic vice presidential nominee, John Edwards.

"I think Cheney is going to wipe the floor with him," said a fan of the vice president seated inside the convention hall.

Cheney's resume details the experience that delegates laud: A veteran of government since the Nixon administration, he held the titles congressman, White House chief of staff and defense secretary before becoming what Christian Science Monitor this week called "the most powerful vice president in U.S. history."

From the moment he joined the Bush campaign in 2000, he has played an enormously influential role — by design and by coincidence. He headed the Bush transition team, then the president's energy task force. He also happened to be the one in the White House situation room on Sept. 11.

The Daily Standard, a special edition of the conservative newsmagazine the Weekly Standard dubbed him "The Veep, Big Time," a reference to Cheney's infamous "amen" after candidate Bush described a reporter as a "major league a------" during the 2000 race.

At the same time, The New York Times labeled the vice president "a campaign flashpoint, perhaps the most controversial running mate since Dan Quayle."

For Democrats, Cheney's liabilities are legion. There are his ties to Halliburton, the company that forged thick links with the Pentagon when Cheney was defense secretary, then made Cheney CEO and later earned multibillion dollar contracts in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

There is the energy task force, whose records of meetings between Cheney and corporate leaders the White House refuses to release, and the duck-hunting trip with Justice Antonin Scalia as the Supreme Court heard a case concerning the task force records.

There is the vice president's hard-line on Iraq, from continued assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, was actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons and that there was a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks.

And finally there is Cheney's unfriendly advice to Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor.

All these have combined to hurt Cheney's poll ratings dramatically. From a 44 percent favorable rating in November 2000, now only 29 percent of respondents in CBS News polls say they have a favorable view of the vice president. Over the same period, Cheney's unfavorable rating has about doubled from 18 percent to 37 percent.

But it's a different story inside the GOP. More than nine in 10 Republican delegates view Cheney in a positive light, and better than 6 in 10 Republican voters feel that way. Among both groups, Cheney's unfavorable ratings are in the single digits.

While former Republican Sen. Alphonse D'Amato of New York recently suggested that "the president can guarantee his essential re-election by looking to several other notable individuals" and dumping Cheney, 83 percent of delegates in the CBS News poll believed Cheney should remain on the GOP ticket, to 7 percent who wanted him replaced.

A few Republicans interviewed — even one who considered herself a "big fan" of Cheney — acknowledged that he carries baggage. At a breakfast hosted by the pro-abortion rights Republican WISH (Women in the Senate and House) List, a couple attendees indicated they wished the party had another choice.

But the vast majority of those interviewed said they were happy to have Cheney on the ticket.

"He's a very focused businessperson that is not a warm and fuzzy people person," said one WISH List attendee. "That's one of his strengths. I want someone who's running the country focused on the details of running the country."

"The good thing about Dick is he's a remarkable administrator," said Rhode Island delegate, former Navy secretary and ambassador Bill Middendorf.

"He's an incredibly humble, modest guy. He never takes the credit for himself. He takes things seriously and gets the job done," Middendorf, who has worked for six presidents and was Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign treasurer, said. "That's what you want in government."

And the role of Cheney's experience is different this time, Republicans said. Where four years ago his gravitas offset the relative inexperience of then Gov. Bush, now Cheney's presence merely adds to the feeling that the country is in good hands, Republicans say.

And they feel Cheney's background and demeanor will be a huge plus in the contest with John Kerry and Edwards.

Surveys indicate the voters are not so sure. A CBS News poll in July indicates Edwards wins a head-to-head match-up 52-38.

But four in five voters said they will make their choice in November based mainly on the presidential nominee.

Even among those Republicans who were not especially fond of Cheney, there was agreement that the vice president's recent comments on same-sex relationships did much to improve their estimation of the vice president.

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with," Cheney said on Aug. 24. He went on to say the issue was "appropriately a matter for the states to decide and that's how it ought best be handled."

Cheney's comments both humanized him and were in line with what many of the party faithful feel. A combined 47 percent of Republican voters support either same-sex marriage or civil unions. The GOP platform opposes federal or state judges or bureaucrats recognizing "other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage."

By Jarrett Murphy
  • Jarrett Murphy

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