Cheney's standing increases as plans for election form
By Richard W. Stevenson
WASHINGTON — Vice President Dick Cheney has made explicit his intention to run for re-election with President Bush next year, paving the way for him to take an early role in fund-raising and underscoring his status as a crucial adviser to Mr. Bush.
Mr. Cheney's statement erased any lingering doubt about the composition of the Republican ticket next year and set the stage for the first phase of the White House's re-election effort, in which the vice president is expected to play a central role in an effort to build up a big fund-raising advantage over Democrats by soliciting twice the record $100 million the Bush campaign raised in 2000.
Mr. Cheney's standing with his self-described constituency of one — the president — appears only to have grown through two wars and the constant policy clashes between the State Department and the Pentagon. Moreover, Republicans said, his role as the administration's wise man and honest broker on national security issues make the vice president a more compelling political partner for Mr. Bush.
Republican strategists said Mr. Cheney would take on an increasingly political role this year before Mr. Bush plunges back into overt campaigning next year. Mr. Cheney, they said, would hit the fund-raising trail for the ticket as soon as this summer, though more likely in the fall, once Mr. Bush formally establishes a re-election committee to receive contributions.
"I would expect the vice president to have a very aggressive political schedule this year that would center on fund-raising events for the presidential committee," said a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House.
"He will take up a lot of the money-raising-event-attendance slack for the president this year because the president is busy being president," the strategist said. "The people who give you money are part of your political base, and Cheney is wildly popular with the base."
Mr. Cheney disclosed his plans in an interview on Tuesday with The Dallas Morning News.
"The president has asked me if I would serve again as his running mate," Mr. Cheney told the newspaper. "I've agreed to do that."
Democrats, who have sought to link Mr. Cheney in the minds of voters to corporate excesses, environmental degradation and unjustified government secrecy, said the vice president would be a prime political target for their nominee. Having had four heart attacks, Mr. Cheney is also sure to confront continued questions about his health.
There has never been much question that Mr. Cheney would run again, barring another heart problem. Mr. Bush had said at a news conference in November that he expected the vice president to be on the ticket with him again. But Mr. Cheney's remarks to the Dallas newspaper were his first public confirmation of his intentions, and amounted to the most explicit acknowledgment yet that the White House is well into planning for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign, despite protestations from administration officials that electoral politics has been the last thing on the president's mind.
White House officials were vague about when Mr. Bush had asked Mr. Cheney to be on the ticket again. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said it had been around the time that Mr. Bush had told the news conference on Nov. 7 — two days after the midterm Congressional elections — that "should I decide to run, Vice President Cheney will be my running mate."
Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Bush was "obviously not" concerned that Mr. Cheney's heart problems would be an impediment to him running and serving again. In the newspaper interview, Mr. Cheney said his health was fine.
"I've got a doc with me 24 hours a day who watches me very carefully," he said.
In dispensing with the issue so early, Mr. Bush handled the question of keeping his vice president on the ticket very differently from his father, who put to rest speculation that he might dump Dan Quayle as his No. 2 only a little over a year before Election Day 1992.
Where Mr. Quayle was seen by some Republicans as a drag on the ticket, political strategists said today that Mr. Cheney would probably take the early lead in campaigning and fund-raising while Mr. Bush, his political standing bolstered by the war in Iraq, stays in the White House, above the partisan fray.
"It's always true that when an incumbent runs for re-election that the vice president carries a pretty heavy workload on the campaign trail," said Charlie Black, a Republican strategist. "I do think you'll see the vice president going out and doing fund-raisers more than the president, partly because its easier for him to get out. He's almost as popular as the president at fund-raisers. So you'll probably see him just as soon as there's a re-elect committee and people can make donations."
Mr. Cheney has maintained almost total discretion about his dealings with the president, keeping secret even from his senior staff the topics of his regular lunches with Mr. Bush. He gives few interviews, holds almost no news conferences and gives speeches relatively infrequently.
But since the 2000 election, when many Democrats and even some Republicans wondered whether Mr. Cheney might be the real power in a White House occupied by an untested president, Mr. Bush has clearly established his authority and shown himself comfortable with flexing his newfound political muscle.
"In every sense this is a partnership, though there's no doubt in anyone's mind that George W. Bush is the senior partner," said Kenneth Duberstein, who was chief of staff in the Reagan White House and is close to the current administration.
In having Mr. Cheney run alongside him, Mr. Bush squashed any likelihood of using the next election to anoint a successor. There had been vague talk over the past few years in the party's ranks about the possibility of Mr. Bush's running with someone like Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who is now the secretary of homeland security, or Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, now the majority leader. But few Republicans harbored serious hopes of replacing Mr. Cheney anyway, barring a recurrence of the vice president's heart problems.