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Cheney, once in hiding, popping up everywhere


WASHINGTON -- Vice President Dick Cheney has emerged from the "secure, undisclosed location" where he lived and worked in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Suddenly, the vice president is all over the place as he campaigns for Republicans running in the Nov. 7 election and grants news interviews to push Bush administration policies.

Cheney's pace of public appearances and interviews this year is more than double his average for the first six months of the past five years.

The 65-year-old Washington insider has delivered remarks to at least 37 audiences in 12 states and the District of Columbia on behalf of administration policies or Republican candidates in 2006. He also has given at least 18 interviews to national and local news media this year.

Cheney's disappearance into the "undisclosed location" after the Sept. 11 attacks was designed to protect the continuity of U.S. government in the event of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

Now the vice president is "fulfilling the traditional election-year role on the chicken-and-peas circuit - rallying the base, raising campaign donations and serving as lighting rod for controversial policies so the president can stay above the fray," says Timothy Walch, editor of At the President's Side: The Vice Presidency in the Twentieth Century and director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.

Cheney's whirlwind trip to Chicago on Thursday illustrated how important the Bush administration views the off-year congressional elections.

Cheney pivoted from taxpayer-financed official duties touting the nation's economy to a nonpartisan audience at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, to attending a private campaign fundraiser for Republican Dave McSweeney, an investment banker challenging first-term Rep. Melissa Bean, an Illinois Democrat.

Republican strategists calculate that Bean could be vulnerable in a traditionally Republican district.

"I'm spending a fair amount of time out helping our candidates," Cheney told Fox News Channel's conservative talk show host Sean Hannity before his trip to Chicago.

A plain-spoken, low-key campaigner elected by Wyoming voters to six terms in the House, Cheney already has helped Republican Brian Bilbray narrowly win an "extraordinarily important" special congressional election in San Diego this month. The hotly contested race to replace Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the California Republican ousted and imprisoned in a bribery scandal, was considered an early bellwether of Republican candidates' ability to withstand Democratic attacks about corruption.

A Gallup Poll in April showed Cheney's favorability rating trailing Bush by 5 percentage points, at 34 percent, compared with 39 percent for the president.

But requests for his campaign help keep coming in.

"I suppose sometimes people look at my demeanor and say, well, he's the Darth Vader of the administration," Cheney said in a CNN interview Thursday. But Cheney says the fact that neither he nor Bush is seeking elective office frees both to do "what we think is right for the country."

A former White House chief of staff, member of Congress and defense secretary, Cheney parlayed nearly three decades of Washington experience, national security expertise and the post-Sept. 11 military campaigns into becoming the most widely influential vice president in the nation's history, scholars say.

"Cheney comes as close to being a co-president as I think we'll ever see," said Jody C. Baumgartner, author of The American Vice Presidency Reconsidered and a professor at Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

John J. Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., who worked with Cheney on Capitol Hill in the 1980s, said Cheney has expanded the vice presidential roles forged by Walter Mondale in the Carter administration and Al Gore in the Clinton administration.

"We may never really know the complete contours of his role inside the administration," Pitney said.

Cheney has maintained a hectic public and private schedule for decades despite having suffered four heart attacks, undergoing quadruple bypass surgery and having a cardiac defibrillator implanted in 2001.

Cheney, who amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune heading Halliburton for five years in the 1990s, says he plans to complete his term as vice president and return with his wife Lynne, 64, to the couple's home in the wealthy resort community of Jackson Hole, Wyo., in early 2009.

But Cheney concedes that he may face one hiccup before the end of the Bush presidency: The possibility of being called as a witness to testify at the trial of his former top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who faces five felony charges stemming from an alleged cover-up of a White House effort to silence an Iraq war critic by leaking the identify of the critic's wife, a covert CIA agent.

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