Presidential running mates go head-to-head

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The Independent US

Looking relaxed and cheerful, the presidentialrunning-mates Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney arrived in the bucolic setting of central Kentucky yesterday for the one vice-presidential debate of this year's election.

Looking relaxed and cheerful, the presidentialrunning-mates Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney arrived in the bucolic setting of central Kentucky yesterday for the one vice-presidential debate of this year's election.

With the polls showing the two White House contenders still locked in a near-dead heat even after their gladiatorial televised combat on Tuesday night, the deputies had a chance to tip the balance.

But anything less like the tense showdown between the two White House contenders was hard to imagine. Danville, in the heart of Blue Grass country, is the smallest town to host such a debate. This is the rolling landscape of manicured horse farms and country music. On the roads, every other vehicle seems to be drawing a horse-box, the radio offers Christian country music and preachers. Danville's Centre College is the alma mater of two previous vicepresidents, Adlai Stevenson and John Breckinridge.

It is a quiet, intimate campus, which preserved its autumnal tranquillity yesterday, even in the face of invasion by the hordes of national media.

The college raised $700,000 in private money to pay for the debate, including extensive wiring and cabling and replacement seating for its main hall. Town and college officials expect the costs to be justified by the national and international attention the debate will bring to a part of the country, that is hardly on the national map.

When the Bush campaign initially rejected all the venues proposed by the neutral commission organising the presidential debates, Danville was devastated, and some said the resentment could place Mr Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, at a disadvantage here.

Yesterday there was no hint of recrimination. Danville had its flags out and a continuous stream of civic events and receptions was on the diary.

But in this Bible-belt state, Mr Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew from the North-east and Mr Cheney, a former defence secretary, oil executive and man of the world, seemed like envoys from afar when they descended on Danville, with their entourages of security people and advisers.

So close are Mr Gore and Mr Bush in the polls that every little advantage may count. So far, Mr Lieberman, with his impassioned campaigning and jocular humour, has been an asset to Mr Gore, livening him up on the campaign trail and using his own reputation for integrity to temper voters' doubts about the Democrat.

Mr Cheney, initially hailed as bringing gravitas and experience to the Republican ticket, has brought Mr Bush mostly grief. His oil industry pension and share options posed ethical questions, and his decade out of campaigning and public office left his communications skills distinctly robotic. But he has been training hard and, if he outshines Mr Lieberman on facts and figures, he could help Mr Bush make up ground he lost to Mr Gore on Tuesday.

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