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Deflecting The Dems

On the eve of the GOP convention in Philadelphia, the theme from the Bush camp might as well be, "It's the negativity, stupid!"

Less than a week into his new role as George W. Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney more than defended his voting record as a one-time Wyoming congressman as he hit the Sunday talk show circuit. The former Defense Secretary also tried to turn the tables on recent Democrat attacks.

"I don't apologize for my record. It's there, it's my record. I'm proud of it," Cheney told CBS News' Face The Nation.

"What you see is this kind of sort of partisan bickering on many concerns that go back and look at votes in the House of Representatives 20 years ago instead of talking about the future and where we want to go in the future," he added.

Democrats - including their presidential candidate Al Gore - are hammering Cheney over a grab bag of his House votes. Against Head Start funding and the creation of a federal Department of Education. Opposing abortion rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and more gun control. Against a resolution calling for releasing Nelson Mandela from prison during apartheid in South Africa.

Bottom line from the Democrats: that Cheney is just too conservative.

"The people making the charges about my record had nice things to say about me in the past (who) were colleagues in the Congress, (who) supported me when I became Secretary of Defense," said Cheney, who noted that Gore voted to confirm him to run the Pentagon.

Once again, the former congressman and oil services executive said Sunday that he'd probably "tweak" some of his House votes if he had to do them over. But, Cheney added many of his "no" votes were in procedural protest against a Democrat-controlled House that, he said, rammed through those votes with little debate.

A case in point: on gun control, Cheney said he now favors handgun trigger locks and tighter enforcement on existing gun laws.

There are a of things we can do to do a better job than we have in the past to deal with these problems" of gun crime, he told Face The Nation.

Perhaps not a dramatic sea change on the issue, but certainly a step removed from Cheney's House record that also puts him in sync with the Bush camp and with most Republicans now.

"The campaign that Governor Bush and I will run," said Cheney, "is very much oriented towards the future, focused on trying to restore a degree of civility in Washington to end the partisan backbiting that has been so much a part of the tone and tenor in this city for so many years now."

"I think that's what we'll find will be attractive to independent voters with the campaign that we offer them with respect to the future," he added.

Arizona Sen. John McCain - whose GOP presidential bid received strong support from those independent voters - praised Cheney and dismissed talk he himself would make anothr White House bid four years from now.

"No one, no one, no matter how great an adversary they were believed that Dick Cheney was any kind of right-wing nut or anything like that," said McCain of Cheney's House years on Face The Nation.

Cheney "was viewed as a man of leadership ability and highly respected, including being deemed so by his Republican colleagues who made him the (House minority) whip," McCain added.

What would attract independent voters to Cheney, the Straight Talk senator was asked.

"I think he brings experience. I think he brings talent. All Americans are still looking back with pride on Operation Desert Storm. I think as he is better known - and he will be much better known - that they will be impressed as others were throughout his political career."

McCain also told Face The Nation that he expects to campaign for the re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004 - and "could envision no scenario in which I could run" for the White House then.

"But I want to play a role in the future of my party. That's why I ran for president. I want to keep us in the center. I want us to be an inclusive party," he said. "I believe Governor Bush is doing that. I say that with all sincerity. And I think the American people are responding to that."

While McCain remains committed to his party and its presidential choice, he still displays his maverick streak. For one thing, he talked about campaign finance reform at the Shadow Convention in Philadelphia on Sunday. For another, his view on the Rev. Pat Robertson hasn't changed since the GOP primaries.

"I feel again that Reverend Robertson wants to lead our party in the wrong direction," said McCain of the religious right icon. "But I don't feel like getting in fights with him. The things he has said about me indicate the kind of person he is."

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