Cheney 'the Jock' charms his way across the country

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The Independent US

Back in the balmy days of September, it looked as though George W Bush might have made a big mistake. Dick Cheney, the running-mate he had chosen to give his presidential ticket the authority and experience he lacked, was in all sorts of trouble.

Back in the balmy days of September, it looked as though George W Bush might have made a big mistake. Dick Cheney, the running-mate he had chosen to give his presidential ticket the authority and experience he lacked, was in all sorts of trouble.

He was dry and boring on the stump, pressing the flesh was just not his metier, and the closest he came to exhibiting baby-kissing skills were readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to primary school children - and then only if his more outgoing wife was there to give encouragement.

There were other problems, too. As chief executive of Halliburton, a big Texas-based oil equipment company, he was associated with "big oil" at a time when high oil prices looked set to become an election issue.

Now, though, Mr Cheney is emerging as a distinct asset, allowing Mr Bush to boast in his speeches of his ability to "pick" people and the wise choice he made.

Mr Cheney and his wife are out on the stump most days now, trusted to campaign separately from Mr Bush without committing campaign-killing gaffes. And Dick Cheney, the one-time captain of his Wyoming school football team, has come into his own - in the football stadiums and gymnasiums of America's schools and colleges.

The serious, bespectacled Mr Cheney may not be a rhetorical firebrand, but he inspires respect and liking, not just among "mature" Republicans, but with young voters as well. Not only do they appreciate his calm intelligence, they like the fact that he does not try to be something he is not. They find him genuine.

The tide turned for Dick Cheney at the vice-presidential debate in Kentucky last month, where his civil demeanour and dry humour, not to speak of his transparent competence, were hailed as a welcome contrast to the bad-tempered staginess of the first presidential debate. Al Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman, was already receiving plaudits for his lively and committed campaigning.

Now, though, their positions seem to have been reversed. While Mr Lieberman seems to have run a little out of steam on the stump, Mr Cheney is cruising.

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