Whose Veep Is Fitter?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 8, 2004; 12:29 PM

President Bush yesterday brusquely tarred John Kerry's new running mate, Sen. John Edwards, as unfit to be president -- in contrast to his own running mate, Vice President Cheney.

But overnight polls show that American voters actually prefer Edwards to Cheney, both as vice president and, should it come to that, as president.

And while Cheney couldn't ask for a more resounding statement of support from Bush, the "Dump Cheney" movement that I wrote about in yesterday's column gained the support of an outspoken former Republican senator.

Bush v. Edwards

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush on Wednesday questioned the fitness of Sen. John Edwards to assume the presidency, lashing out at the North Carolinian on his home turf just 25 hours after he joined Sen. John F. Kerry's ticket.

"Bush had cordially welcomed the freshman senator to the race hours after Kerry announced his choice of running mate, but when asked here how Edwards would stack up against Vice President Cheney, he snapped: 'Dick Cheney can be president. Next?'"

Allen also notes that Bush's statement came in a day otherwise spent largely out of the sight of reporters. "Bush participated in five events in North Carolina and Michigan, all closed to most reporters. A small pool of reporters observed his remarks after the meetings with judges in both states; the second time, he took no questions. No reporters were permitted at the three fundraisers, and the texts of his remarks were not released."

Carl Hulse and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times that "Mr. Bush showed how aggressively Republicans were moving to expose what party leaders view as Senator John Edwards's greatest vulnerability: his lack of experience."

Democrats, of course, "asserted that Mr. Edwards's five years in the Senate stacked up nicely with the amount of time Mr. Bush himself served as governor of Texas -- his first public office -- before moving to the Oval Office."

Greg Hitt and Jacob M. Schelsinger write in the Wall Street Journal: "President Bush signaled his opening strategy for fighting John Kerry's ticket: jab vice-presidential candidate John Edwards on his qualifications and hit both Democratic rivals on their values."

On the CBS Evening News, Bill Plante says Bush delivered his assessment of Edwards "with blunt force" -- and then shows Kerry firing back: "He was right that Dick Cheney was ready to take over on Day One, and did, and he has been ever since, folks."

Plante also shows, with some dandy editing, how Bush stressed the word "values" over and over again and how he is going to great pains to deliver the message that, in Plante's words, "John Kerry is different, and he's not like you."

Here's the transcript of Bush's comments near Raleigh.

You'll notice one particularly odd exchange, which the New York Times's Neil A. Lewis explained in his pool report later.

Lewis addresses Bush as "Mr. President or Mr. Candidate," and Bush replies: "Well, 'Mr. President,' thank you."

Poll Watch

Here's Tim Russert on the NBC Nightly News filling Brian Williams in on the latest quickie poll.

For one, it shows that the Kerry campaign got a bounce from the Edwards announcement, now leading Bush/Cheney by a 49 to 41 margin.

But the real shocker: When asked who they would prefer, upon the death of the president, if the vice president had to serve as president, Edwards outpolled Cheney 45 percent to 38 percent.

"It really is striking," Russert said. "We had assumed that an incumbent vice president, with the gravitas of Dick Cheney, would do much better than that against the inexperienced John Edwards."

Mark Murray of NBC goes through yet more results and writes: "Moreover, when asked who is more optimistic about the future of the country, 49 percent said Edwards, while just 28 percent chose Cheney."

Keep in mind that optimism is arguably the paramount theme of the Bush/Cheney message.

Another overnighter poll, this one from Gallup, (with CNN and USA Today) found that: "When asked how they would rate Kerry's choice of Edwards as vice president, 64% of registered voters say either 'excellent' or 'pretty good,' while just 28% say 'only fair' or 'poor.' In 2000, the comparable figures for Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman were 53% positive to 28% negative, and for Cheney 55% to 34%."

Here are all the numbers, from USA Today.

Dump Cheney Watch

Ray Hernandez writes in the New York Times: "Alfonse M. D'Amato, the once-influential Republican senator from New York, says that President Bush should drop Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. D'Amato, famous for his blunt candor and shrewd political skills, has suggested twice in the past two days that Mr. Bush could replace Mr. Cheney with one of two big-name Republicans who he said could ensure Mr. Bush's re-election: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or Senator John McCain of Arizona."

Joe Mahoney and Corky Siemaszko write in the New York Daily News on the Bush campaign's response, quoting campaign spokesman Kevin Madden: "I think the fact our campaign is called 'Bush-Cheney '04' says it all. . . . Dick Cheney has one of the most substantive vice presidencies in our great nation's history."

Columnist Bruce Bartlett in the Washington Times yesterday repeated his earlier concern that "Bush had missed an opportunity anoint his own successor, someone who would give the Republicans a fighting chance against what likely will be very strong Democratic ticket probably headed by Hillary Clinton if Mr. Kerry loses this year."

He writes that Arizona Senator John McCain "clearly would strengthen the ticket and lately has been making nice with Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans, with whom he has often feuded in the past. Mr. McCain may also be the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton in 2008."

For his part, McCain told Katie Couric on NBC's Today show this morning, regarding Cheney: "I think the day that President Bush drops Vice President Cheney will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Arizona."

Okay, sure it's going up to 106 today in Gila Bend, according to Accu-Weather, but it can get down to as low as 44 in November, says weatherbase.com. Does that count?

McCain also said he would campaign for Bush but would not attack either Kerry or Edwards. He called Edwards "a good man" and said Kerry had made a good selection.

Couric noted to McCain: "Everyone it seems wants to be on your dance card."

While in North Carolina

Matthew Eisley writes in the Raleigh News and Observer: "President Bush dropped by the Triangle on Wednesday and collected $2.35 million -- a record for a North Carolina political event -- in the home city of the Democratic vice presidential candidate. . . .

"At a private reception at the North Raleigh home of businessman and prominent Republican donor Cliff Benson Jr., 520 people attended and contributed the third-largest amount for a political fund-raiser in the nation this year, organizer Jim Cain said.

"About 150 guests signed up after Kerry picked Edwards to run with him, said Cain, a Raleigh lawyer and former Carolina Hurricanes executive. The original goal was $1.5 million, he said. . . .

"Reception guests paid $2,000 to hear Bush give a 50-minute speech. He spoke about his policies, his personality and symbols in the Oval Office, such as a rug with rays of sunlight emanating from the presidential seal, a sign of optimism, Cain said."

Eisley also has the skinny on Bush's impromptu visit to a lemonade stand. (See pretty photos.) Turns out little lemonade-sellers Heather and Shelby Dew had waved to the presidential motorcade as it sped toward a North Raleigh fundraiser. A little later on, Secret Service agents stopped by to taste the lemonade. Raleigh Police Chief Jane Perlov came over to hang out on the lawn. And then, as the motorcade was on its way back from the fundraiser, it -- surprise! -- pulled over.

"The Dews told Bush the drinks were free for Republicans, but the president paid $10 cash anyway."

Pool reporter Neil A. Lewis of the New York Times informed his colleagues that Bush once against unleashed his hoary "trying to help the local economy" quip, and invited reporters to join him. "Some did. People who were there at the beginning said Mr. Bush paid with cash from his pocket, an unusual occurrence for presidents who often do not carry cash (what for?)."

Well, with all that advance notice, I'm guessing someone slipped him a few bucks.

Judicial Nominees

The avowed purpose of yesterday's visits to North Carolina and Michigan was to call attention to the judicial nominees whose confirmations have been blocked by Democrats.

Here's the transcript of his comments after meeting with judicial nominees in Michigan.

About That Uranium. . . .

Remember that claim Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union address, when he cited British intelligence in asserting that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from an unnamed country in Africa?

Remember how the White House later said the claim should not have been made, after reports that the intelligence community expressed doubts it was true?

(It also led to Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and CIA operative Valerie Plame becoming household names, because Wilson was critical of the claim and his wife was allegedly outed as retaliation.)

Well, Mark Hubbard writes in the Financial Times that a much-anticipated report from an independent British commission "is expected to conclude that Britain's spies were correct to say that Saddam Hussein's regime sought to buy uranium from Niger."

(The president's own Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded that it was a questionable claim, as The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reported in December.)

And Another Incoming Report

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "A bipartisan Senate report to be issued Friday that is highly critical of prewar intelligence on Iraq will sidestep the question of how the Bush administration used that information to make the case for war, Congressional officials said Wednesday.

"But Democrats are maneuvering to raise the issue in separate statements. Under a deal reached this year between Republicans and Democrats, the Bush administration's role will not be addressed until the Senate Intelligence Committee completes a further stage of its inquiry, but probably not until after the November election. . . .

"The effect may be to provide an opening for President Bush and his allies to deflect responsibility for what now appear to be exaggerated prewar assessments about the threat posed by Iraq, by portraying them as the fault of the Central Intelligence Agency and its departing chief, George J. Tenet, rather than Mr. Bush and his top aides."

Rice Speeds Through Asia

AFP reports on national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's three-day Asia trip. Wednesday was Japan, today is China, tomorrow is South Korea. Rice is characterizing the trip as an indication of Bush's "commitment to the region".

Kozo Mizoguchi writes for the Associated Press that "Rice focused on North Korea's nuclear program and tensions between China and Taiwan Wednesday in talks with Japan's top officials."

O'Malley Watch

David Nitkin writes in the Baltimore Sun: "Comptroller William Donald Schaefer is refusing to allow Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's recent comments about al-Qaida to fade away, saying the mayor is guilty of 'treason' for questioning the Bush administration."

Last week, O'Malley said he was worried about Al Qaeda, but "even more worried about the actions and inactions of the Bush administration." Schaefer is Maryland's famously petulant former governor.

Is It Good for the Jews?

E.J. Kessler profiles a key Bush-Cheney campaign figure in the Jewish weekly Forward: "If President Bush succeeds in increasing his share of the Jewish vote above the estimated 19% that he won in 2000, it will have a great deal to do with his with-us-or-against-us posture on the world stage. True, the Jewish community is sharply divided over the wisdom of the president's stance. At least one Jew is thoroughly convinced, however, and he's an important one: the president's own campaign manager, Ken Mehlman."

Today's Calendar

Bush meets with the King of Morocco in the Oval Office, then makes remarks via satellite to the League of United Latin American Citizens Annual Convention in San Antonio.

Pardon Watch

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush has issued full pardons to two men convicted in separate fraud cases in Wisconsin and Oklahoma."

Cheney's (Ex-)Doctor

Rick Weiss of The Washington Post continues to follow the story of Gary Malakoff, the allegedly drug-dependent internist who was until recently Cheney's personal physician.

"One thing that became clear yesterday is that Cheney has known about Malakoff's problems for some time. Jonathan Reiner, director of GWU's cardiac catheterization laboratory, said in an interview that Cheney 'has known for years' about Malakoff's drug dependence, although he would not be specific.

"'Dr. Malakoff had frank discussions with the vice president for quite a period of time about this,' Reiner said. 'This was not just recent news. He has kept him apprised.' . . .

"Cheney's press secretary, Kevin Kellems, would not comment on when the vice president learned about Malakoff's problems but said Cheney had no concerns about the care he received."

Book Watch

Hey, just what we needed, another Bush-bashing book!

This one's called "The Folly of Empire." Its author, John B. Judis, has an excerpt in Foreign Policy magazine's current issue. He writes: "If Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney or Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (the administration's leading neoconservative) had remembered the brutal war the United States fought in the Philippines or similar misadventures in Mexico, or the blighted history of Western imperialism in the Middle East, they still might have invaded Iraq. But they also might have had second, third, or even fourth thoughts about what Bush, unconsciously echoing the imperialists of a century ago, called a 'historic opportunity to change the world.'"

July Surprise?

And speaking of Judis, he and Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari write in The New Republic that last month, "even as the president's poll numbers were sliding, his administration was implementing a plan to insure the public's confidence in his hunt for Al Qaeda.

"This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman Al Zawahiri, or the Taliban's Mullah Mohammed Omar, all of whom are believed to be hiding in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan."

They report -- third hand, at least -- that a White House aide told a Pakistani general last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT [High Value Target] were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July" -- the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

Fahrenheit 9/11 (Non)Watch

From the transcript of a media availability with first lady Laura Bush yesterday, in Des Moines.

"Q Have you seen Fahrenheit 9/11? (Laughter.)

"MRS. BUSH: What do you think? (Laughter.)

"Q I think that you haven't. (Laughter.)

"MRS. BUSH: I think that would be right."

Sycophant Watch

Reliable Source columnist Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post outs the aide who helps groom Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz in a gross-out scene in "Fahrenheit 9/11." After Wolfowitz applies saliva to his comb -- ewwww -- he "gets grooming assistance from an aide who donates saliva," Leiby writes.

"And who is the valiant aide who assists the hair-plastering? 'Would that qualify me for hazardous duty pay?' wonders Kevin Kellems, who chuckled while confirming to us this week that he's the one. At the time, Kellems worked as a special adviser to Wolfowitz. Now he's communications director for Vice President Cheney -- a position that doesn't include the challenge of Boss Pompadour Maintenance."

Hazardous duty pay, he says. That's actually not funny.

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