Like a groom whos had his pick of all the pretties only to marry the girl next door, George W. Bush made an honest man of Dick Cheney at their first joint appearance as running mates.
"As we worked together to evaluate the strengths of others, I saw firsthand Dick Cheneys outstanding judgment," Bush said of the man who led his vice-presidential selection process.
"I was impressed by the thoughtful and thorough way he approached his mission," the Texas governor told an enthusiastic, pompom-waving crowd in Austin, "and gradually I realized that the person best qualified to be vice-presidential nominee was working by my side."
To hear Bush tell it, the matchmaker himself was always the apple of his eye. As the two men worked together for months vetting other contenders for the No. 2 position, Bush "kept the thought of him joining me in the back of my mind."
In an interview with CBS News Anchor Dan Rather, Bush called Cheney a man he could count on.
"Hes a good, solid man. Hes a reliable, steady person," said Bush. "I trust him."
As a youngish second-term governor who has never held national office, Bush, the argument goes, needed to recruit a running mate who conveyed a sense of seriousness and maturity.
In Cheney, Bush picked a respected and well-liked Republican graybeard with high-level, hands-on experience in foreign and military affairs, along with unimpeachable conservative credentials.
Among other high-profile jobs, Cheney, 59, was a six-term U.S. congressman from Wyoming; the youngest-ever White House chief of staff (in the Ford Administration); and secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War, serving under Bush's father, the former president.
Cheney was tapped after doctors commissioned by the Bush campaign determined that his history of heart problems he suffered three heart attacks by age 48, and has undergone coronary bypass surgery "should not interfere with a strenuous political campaign."
"I think very highly of him," Powell told CNN. With his foreign policy and defense experience, Cheney "adds depth to a Bush administration."
Bushs vanquished primary rival John McCain, whose name also kept reappearing on the VP radar despite several public protestations that he did not want the job, predicted Cheney "will garner significant support throughout the party and the country."
Former Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond had perhaps the best description of Cheney, calling him a "a conservative who doesnt scare people."
Bond said that in addition to fulfilling Bushs three stated qualifications of competence, philosophical compatibility and loyalty, Cheney is "really well-known and respected by the national media." And his wife, Lynne Cheney, a former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is "a compassionate conservative ... and well-known figure in her own right.". She's also a lecturer on education, which Bush has made his signature issue.
Despite the GOP's self-congratulatory mood, Democrats sounded almost as pleased with Bushs choice, sizing up Cheney's 12-year congressional voting record as a big, slow-moving target. They began sniping at him right away, organizing two anti-Bush-Cheney events in the hours before the Republicans' announcement and in plenty of time to make the nightly news broadcasts.
The Democrats are sure to revisit some of Cheney's votes in Congress in the coming months, including his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest (exceptions Bush favors); and votes against the Clean Water Act of 1987 and a 1985 ban on armor-piercing, "cop killer" bullets.
Democratic media consultant Frank Greer said "every one of those [votes in Congress] indicates this is someone who is conservative and more extreme in his conservative beliefs than George Bush."
While Greer acknowledged that Cheney is "respected for his seasoned experience," he said as a political animal hes "more a Cabinet member than a candidate Is he exciting? Does he energize crowds? Does he do anything you need a candidate to do?"
It won't take long to find out. Wednesday, Bush and Cheney begin campaigning together in Cheneys home state of Wyoming.