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Spinning semantics

From the "Wolf Blitzer Reports" staff

Wolf Blitzer Reports
George W. Bush
John F. Kerry
Dick Cheney

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like previous word wars, the presidential campaign's latest semantic semi-scandal centering on Mary Cheney, the vice president's openly gay daughter, is the subject of furious spin.

It started with the last presidential debate and a direct question to the candidates: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

President Bush said: "I don't know. I just don't know."

But it was Sen. John Kerry's answer that ignited the controversy.

"I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was; she's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice," Kerry said.

Vice President Dick Cheney responded saying, "You saw a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected. And I am not just speaking as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father."

Cheney's wife Lynne said, "I am speaking as a mom -- and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."

The Kerry camp was quick to point out that the vice president himself brought up his daughter's sexuality in an August campaign appearance in Iowa, where Cheney said, "The question has come up in the past with respect to the question of gay marriage. Lynne and I have a gay daughter so it's an issue that our family is very familiar with."

And there was no indignation when John Edwards broached the topic in the vice presidential debate, saying, "I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter."

Cheney's response then: "Well, Gwen, let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much."

Moderator Gwen Ifill: "That's it?"

Cheney: "That's it."

But two weeks later, with polls showing a clean sweep of the debates for Kerry and the race still too close to call, the Bush team's tone has changed.

"It's just below the belt. It's ... just despicable," senior Bush-Cheney campaign adviser Mary Matlin said on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports" Thursday.

And the Cheneys' other daughter, Liz, said, "It was a very offensive thing for him to do."

Elizabeth Edwards only added fuel to the fire in a radio interview, during which she said, "It makes me really sad that that's Lynne's response. I think that indicates a certain degree of shame with the respect to her daughter's sexual preferences."

Kerry issued a statement saying:

"I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue."

One Bush adviser called that a non-apology. But is there anything to apologize for?

Patrick Guerriero, the head of the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans, says neither side can claim the moral high ground. "John Kerry and John Edwards would be smart to make their case for gay and lesbian fairness by not mentioning Mary Cheney."

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