Aloof Cheney looks like a liability for Bush's campaign

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The Independent US

When the Republican presidential nominee, George W Bush, named Dick Cheney as his running mate four weeks ago, Bush critics quipped that the ticket was the wrong way round: was not Mr Cheney, former White House chief of staff and respected defence secretary, better equipped to be president than the governor of Texas, George Bush?

When the Republican presidential nominee, George W Bush, named Dick Cheney as his running mate four weeks ago, Bush critics quipped that the ticket was the wrong way round: was not Mr Cheney, former White House chief of staff and respected defence secretary, better equipped to be president than the governor of Texas, George Bush?

Now, though, with polls showing Mr Bush and his Democratic opponent, the vice-president, Al Gore, neck and neck, Mr Cheney is looking increasingly like a liability.

One of the thorniest problems is a possible conflict of interest relating to the position he relinquished as head of the Texas oil equipment company Halliburton. He got a big retirement package, which he says is standard, even though he broke the terms by leaving early. He still has share options which cannot be exercised for two years. So far he has refused to countenance giving them up, nor did he do so yesterday, saying only that he had advisers working on ways that the appearance of any conflict of interest could be avoided.

So long as the problem persists, Mr Cheney draws attention to his (and Mr Bush's) ties with what Mr Gore derides as "big oil" and perpetuates a view that there is one law for the rich and another for ordinary people.

The government experience Mr Cheney was supposed to bring is also turning out to be counter-productive. When Mr Bush attacked the state of the armed forces, blaming the Clinton-Gore administration for underfunding, Mr Cheney was not on hand to back him up. (He was honing his campaign skills, reading The Hungry Caterpillar to infant school children.)

Democrats pointed out that it was Mr Cheney who decreed the biggest cuts in military spending, during the administration of Mr Bush's father.

Responding yesterday, Mr Cheney quoted figures to show certain branches of the military were slashed by half in recent years but he had no answer to the central charge. On television yesterday he flouted the weekend political dress code, appearing in overly formal dark suit and tie.

Conventional wisdom has it that a running mate has no impact on the success or otherwise of a presidential ticket. But this year both candidates chose running mates who could compensate for their own deficiencies. So far Mr Gore's choice, Joseph Lieberman - warm, relaxed and politically sharp - seems the more successful.

Mr Cheney, in contrast, appears aloof, hardly part of a joint ticket, and his experience of high office is proving to be as much a burden as a boon.

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