Trusted old friend of the family gets on a ticket at last

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The Independent US

Richard (Dick) Cheney, 59, was immediately judged a safe and solid choice whose strengths complement most of George W Bush's perceived weaknesses. Mr Bush had said that his two priorities in selecting a running mate were personal loyalty and the capacity to take over as president should that be necessary. Mr Cheney, a long-time friend of the Bush family who has extensive Washington experience, including high ratings as Defence Secretary during the Gulf War, scores highly on both counts.

Richard (Dick) Cheney, 59, was immediately judged a safe and solid choice whose strengths complement most of George W Bush's perceived weaknesses. Mr Bush had said that his two priorities in selecting a running mate were personal loyalty and the capacity to take over as president should that be necessary. Mr Cheney, a long-time friend of the Bush family who has extensive Washington experience, including high ratings as Defence Secretary during the Gulf War, scores highly on both counts.

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1941, Mr Cheney graduated from the University of Wyoming in political science after a brief spell at Yale. He married Lynne, a Wyoming girl, and made his home in that state.

He entered politics early, becoming White House Chief of Staff to President Gerald Ford at the age of 34, after serving as his deputy assistant. He spent a year in the Wyoming legislature, before being elected Congressman for Wyoming in 1978. He was re-elected five times, and ended his House career as Republican whip.

In 1988, George W Bush's father, George Bush, shortlisted Mr Cheney to be his running mate, but settled instead on Dan Quayle, a choice he later regretted. He did, however, nominate Mr Cheney as Defence Secretary, an appointment that proved crucial when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States and its allies went to war. Although he had no military experience - like many sons of influence Mr Cheney had perpetually deferred his military service through successive spells of higher education - his handling of the conflict was widely praised. He was admired for his ability to listen and learn, and for his judgement.

When Mr Bush was defeated by Mr Clinton, Mr Cheney left politics and moved to Texas to become chairman of one of the biggest oil equipment companies, Halliburton Corporation of Dallas. Although his business experience was minimal, his stewardship has been regarded as a success. He is now a wealthy man; he sold half his holdings in Halliburton as his vice-presidential nomination neared, receiving more than $5m (£3.3m).

While always precocious, Mr Cheney did not enjoy the best of health. He suffered three heart attacks, the first when he was in his thirties. He underwent a quadruple heart bypass n 1988, and is since said to have had no problems. An extensive medical examination last week gave him a clean bill of health.

As a loyal lieutenant of Mr Bush Snr and a trusted family friend, Mr Cheney appeared the ideal person to chair the search committee set up by George W Bush to scout out running mates. When he agreed to conduct the search, Mr Cheney insisted he had no further political ambitions of his own and assured the board at Halliburton that he had no intention of returning to politics. As recently as four weeks ago, he reiterated that position in conversation with a leading American television pundit.

Mr Cheney had considered, and then dismissed, a presidential bid on his own account in 1996. The reason he gave for his decision then was his reluctance to sacrifice his privacy. But the slim chances of a Republican victory over Mr Clinton may have been another consideration.

As a Washington insider and former defence secretary, Mr Cheney brings to the Republican ticket the national and international experience that Mr Bush lacks. His voting record in Congress was consistently conservative - another plus for Mr Bush, whose brand of "compassionate conservatism" is seen as too centrist in some Republican circles.

Mr Cheney voted against gun control, against public funding for abortion (even in rape cases), and against state intervention in social issues. On the question of homosexual rights (and gays in the military), however, he was more liberal, reportedly because a close relative is gay.

An opinionated thinker in her own right, Mr Cheney's wife Lynne is a former magazine columnist and television pundit, who is currently a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. At one point, Mr Cheney is reported to have joked that she might make Mr Bush a suitable running mate. Instead, Mr Bush's choice fell on him.

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