Tony Clark: Bush keeping in touch with hospitalized running mate
National Correspondent Tony Clark is in Austin, Texas, following the campaign of Texas Governor George W. Bush.
Q: How has George W. Bush and his campaign reacted to the news that Vice Presidential nominee Dick Cheney had suffered chest and shoulder pains and checked into a hospital?
Clark: Gov. Bush was called a little after 5 a.m. local time (6 a.m. EST) and told Secretary Cheney was in the hospital. A short time after that, the governor called Cheney and talked with him, and according to Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett, the governor found Cheney to be in good spirits.
Karen Hughes, who is the governor’s communications director, said that Cheney went to the hospital complaining of chest and shoulder pains. They ran some initial tests on him. The EKG showed that there was no change in his heart. Blood tests showed that the cardiac enzymes were normal. That’s one of the tests to see if someone has had a heart attack. More tests are planned today and Cheney is staying in the hospital.
He’d gone to Washington to spend the holidays at home in McLean, Virginia, with his family when this episode occurred. He’s had a history of heart problems. He’s had three mild heart attacks, the first one when he was 37 years old, the last one more than a decade ago. He’s also had bypass surgery: He had that in 1988. So his health has always been an issue. But in July he underwent some medical tests as he was being considered the vice presidential nominee. He was cleared on those medical tests. He has conducted a vigorous campaign over the months, a strenuous campaign, and has shown no indication of health problems other than suffering a cold in the final weeks of the campaign.
Q: What impact has Cheney’s hospitalization had on the Bush team, especially as it has come on the heels of last night’s Florida Supreme Court decision?
Clark: Obviously, a shock, but I think they feel good that the initial (medical) tests are very positive.
They are very upset about the court ruling. ... They feel that there is an attempt to take the election away from them, to hijack the election. They’re trying to determine how to go about fighting that.
Q: Has the Bush campaign given any indication as to what plans of action it might take -- perhaps going to federal court or turning to the Florida state legislature?
Clark: At this point, the folks in Austin are directing all the questions to (Bush observer) James Baker. Last night ... did indicate that the Florida legislature, which is dominated by Republicans, had the ability to step in and perhaps name Republican electors. And there is also the possibility of going to court over this. At this point, no decision has been announced.
Q: Why has Gov. Bush chosen to keep such a low profile? Why didn’t we seem him appear on television last night to respond to Vice President Al Gore?
Clark: That has been his approach for the last week or so -- it's been very much to give an image of business-as-usual. We’ve seen the governor going to his office at the Capitol. We’ve seen him go to the campaign office to thank the staff members there, to keep the spirits up. The appearance is that he’s away from the fray. ... I think it’s a strategy on the part of the Bush campaign to give an image of normalcy here in Austin.
Q: What is the general mood from the Bush campaign?
Clark: So far today (Wednesday), the entire focus has been on Dick Cheney and his condition. The issues about the supreme court are being left to the folks in Florida.