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Rumblings aside, Cheney likely to be on ticket

VP down in polls, but move could backfire for campaign

Hearst News Service

WASHINGTON -- Abraham Lincoln did it -- and won a second term. So did Franklin D. Roosevelt -- twice. Aides to President George Bush secretly looked into the possibility in 1992 before abandoning the idea.

But don't look for George W. Bush to dump his vice president in November to reverse his slump in the polls or to energize the bid for a second term.

Such a move could signal desperation, rile the conservative Republican base and expose Vice President Dick Cheney's stand-in to campaign-year scrutiny that might unearth unwanted surprises.

The latest Gallup Poll shows that Bush's approval rating has slipped to the lowest level of his presidency -- with 49 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, compared with 90 percent immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Cheney's approval rating also has slipped to the lowest level of his term, with only 45 percent of respondents in a Gallup Poll in mid-February approving of his job performance. Cheney's favorable ratings averaged 63 percent in his first two years in office and 56 percent last year.

Charlie Black, a veteran Republican campaigner advising Bush's re-election team, dismisses the possibility that Bush might abandon Cheney amid declining polls.

"There's frequently speculation about this whenever a president runs for re-election," Black says. "There's almost always someone who wants to bring up the merits of keeping the vice president on the ticket."

But Black says changing vice presidents in midstream is "largely viewed as a sign of weakness -- or an admission that the choice was a mistake the first time. That's why it doesn't happen very often."

Only five of the nation's 46 vice presidents have suffered the indignity of being dumped by a president seeking a second term. Lincoln swapped understudies to win in 1864. Franklin Roosevelt won two of his four terms after sidelining John Nance Gardner in 1940 and Henry Wallace in 1944.

But Benjamin Harrison lost in 1892 after dumping Levi Morton, and Gerald Ford lost in 1976 after swapping former New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller for then-Sen. Robert Dole, R-Kan.

Campaign workers for the first President Bush, father of the president, commissioned a secret poll to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of removing Vice President Dan Quayle from the GOP ticket before the GOP convention in 1992. But Robert Teeter, a pollster, and James Baker, Bush's campaign manager, reportedly shelved the idea when the poll showed a swap would make little difference.

"In general, presidents stick with the one they brought to the dance," says Timothy Walch, director of the Herbert Hoover presidential library and editor of At the President's Side: The Vice Presidency in the Twentieth Century.

"Loyalty is important in the Bush family," Walch added. "I can't imagine the president abandoning Cheney. It would be seen as desperation and herald much larger political problems that could not be resolved just by replacing Cheney."

Bush has gone out of his way in recent weeks to quell speculation that he might replace Cheney before or during the GOP nominating convention in New York City beginning Aug. 30.

"I'm proud to have him standing by my side," Bush said at a fund-raiser in Dallas last week. "Dick Cheney and I stand ready to lead this nation for four more years."

Bush joked in remarks to GOP governors in late February that he had handed Cheney yet another tough assignment -- leading the 2004 vice presidential search committee just as Cheney did in 2000.

"He tells me he's reviewed all the candidates, and he's come back with the same recommendation as last time," Bush said, recalling his selection of Cheney in 2000.

Democratic critics are targeting Cheney as the former head of Halliburton, the Pentagon contractor that has come under intense scrutiny for alleged war profiteering in Iraq. The company's current chief executive appears in television advertising to insist that the company won multibillion-dollar contracts based on its expertise, not on its connections.

James Pinkerton, a former White House official in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush who worked in four GOP presidential campaigns, predicts that the dump-Cheney movement will continue to dog Bush's quest for a second term.

Cheney was wrong on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, wrong on forecasts that Iraqis would welcome invading GIs as "liberators" and wrong to press for an invasion of Iraq to eradicate a suspected nuclear weapons program when the real threat of proliferation was in Pakistan, Pinkerton wrote in a newspaper column in Newsday earlier this month.

Walch, the historian of vice presidents, says if Cheney became a political liability, the 63-year-old former congressman and defense secretary would voluntarily step aside, possibility citing his heart disease and four heart attacks since the 1970s as a public rationale.

Cheney said as much in an MSNBC interview March 2.

"If I thought I were a drag on the ticket, I'd be the first to recommend to him that, that he needs to consider alternatives," Cheney said. "That's not been the case. He's decided he wants me to run again."


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