Bush likely to pick Cheney


AUSTIN, Texas - Republican Gov. George W. Bush of Texas is expected to announce today his choice of former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his vice presidential running mate.

Campaign officials, at Bush's request, refused to publicly confirm that Cheney had been selected. But a number of news organizations, including the Associated Press, reported that the 59-year-old Republican had been chosen, and, privately, Bush campaign aides did nothing to discourage those reports.

Bush returned to Austin yesterday after a weekend visit to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, northwest of the state capital, where he was said to have given further consideration to his decision.

"I have made up my mind," he told CBS News.

Bush was expected to formally offer the job to Cheney last night. A public announcement is expected this afternoon in Austin.

The Republican nominee-to-be told CBS that he made his final decision Sunday night. But there were indications that Bush had made his intentions known to Cheney, who led his vice presidential search team, well before that.

By late last week, according to news accounts, Cheney had begun to prepare officials of his Dallas-based oil-services company for his likely resignation. On Friday, he changed his voter registration from Texas to his home state of Wyoming.

One campaign aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that picking Cheney helped Bush shore up two potential vulnerabilities.

One is the so-called "gravitas gap" - the belief that Bush, after less than six years in public office, lacks presidential stature. The other is a perceived shortage of experience on foreign policy and national defense issues.

"So, you pick a vice president who has both," the aide said.

That sort of thinking had once driven Bush strategists to make popular retired Gen. Colin L. Powell their first choice as a running mate. Powell ruled himself out, though rumors of a Bush-Powell ticket continued to surface.

Just yesterday, Powell's office tried to squelch a report by Dan Rather of CBS News, who announced that Bush and his father had tried, through intermediaries, to persuade Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Bush administration, to change his mind. Rather also reported that Powell's wife, Alma, had relaxed her long-standing opposition to her husband's running.

"There is absolutely no substance to Mr. Rather's report," said Peggy Cifrino, a Powell spokeswoman. "General Powell's position remains unchanged. There have been no conversations of the kind suggested by Mr. Rather."

In an interview with Rather, broadcast last night, Bush said the report that he had approached Powell at the last minute was "not exactly" correct.

Bush said he had taken Powell at his word "from the get-go" when he said he wasn't interested in the job. "He made it clear," Bush said.

Cheney was an informal adviser to the governor's presidential campaign even before he was tapped to run Bush's vice presidential search.

A popular figure within the Washington establishment, Cheney held senior positions in the executive and legislative branches during a 20-year career. His tenure as Bush's defense secretary included the Persian Gulf war in 1991. Cheney never served in the armed forces.

While in his 30s, the mild-mannered Wyoming conservative became President Gerald R. Ford's chief of staff, a powerful White House job often regarded as second only to the president's in terms of influence.

Cheney rose to become the second-ranking Republican in the House during six terms as Wyoming's lone congressman. After a brief exploratory campaign for the 1996 GOP presidential nomination, he became head of the Halliburton Co., the world's leading oil and gas engineering, construction and service firm.

In opting out of the 1996 presidential race, Cheney cited unspecified family concerns. During the late 1970s and 1980s, he suffered three mild heart attacks and underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 1988.

To help allay questions about his health, he recently underwent a physical examination. At the request of Bush and his father, Cheney's doctor reviewed the results with Dr. Denton A. Cooley, a noted Houston heart surgeon, who, according to news accounts, was satisfied that Cheney could withstand the rigors of a campaign.

Cheney's background as a Cabinet member in the Bush administration and the former president's active role in his son's vice presidential selection process are likely targets for Democratic criticism. One of their arguments is that Bush would need to fall back on his father's advisers to perform his duties as president.

Democrats are also expected to skewer what some see as the Republicans' All-Oil ticket, since both Cheney and Bush are closely tied to the petroleum industry. Bush was an independent oilman in Texas for about a decade, in the late 1970s and 1980s before becoming a part-owner and executive with the Texas Rangers major-league baseball team.

"Some people will worry about Cheney's health," said Geoff Garin, a Democratic consultant. "Some people will worry about the fact that he's an oil guy on a ticket headed by another oil guy. And some people will worry that he's come in from daddy's team to watch over the son."

But putting Cheney on the Republican slate isn't likely to make much of a difference in the November election, said Garin, who is not directly involved in Vice President Al Gore's campaign.

"Cheney won't lose Bush any votes, but he won't win him any votes that he wouldn't have gotten at the end of the day," Garin said.

Gore and the Democrats might have faced a more serious threat, Garin said, if Bush had made another pick, such as Powell, Elizabeth Hanford Dole, Sen. John McCain or Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, who supports abortion rights. Each of those running mates could have given Bush more potential appeal to the swing voters, such as women and male independents, Gore hopes to attract.

Republicans, meantime, portrayed the choice of Cheney as a reflection of Bush's confidence that he will defeat Gore in the fall. By selecting a running mate widely respected for his competence and judgment, they said, Bush was looking ahead to governing, rather than worrying about short-term political gain.

Cheney is "certainly a safe pick," said Ed Goeas, a Republican pollster. But because Bush leads in the polls, he has the luxury of choosing someone on the basis of compatibility and his qualifications for the job, rather than for purely political considerations, Goeas added.

Strategists in both parties said it is unlikely that Cheney would enable Bush to carry any key states that he would not otherwise win on his own. Cheney's home state, with just three electoral votes, is one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation in presidential elections.

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