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Democrats to Target Cheney

Attacks on Vice President Aimed at Eroding Confidence in Bush

By Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, April 26, 2004; Page A04

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and the Democratic Party will open a week-long assault on Vice President Cheney today in hopes that tarring him as promoting secrecy and controversial policies will erode confidence in President Bush.

Cheney is less popular than Bush in polls, and Democratic strategists said they need to further inhibit the vice president's effectiveness as Bush's attack messenger.

Presidential candidate John F. Kerry responds to the cheers of the crowd during a campaign rally in Des Moines. This week, Kerry and the Democratic Party are to begin attacks on Vice President Cheney, who in turn will criticize Kerry. (Jim Bourg -- Reuters)

Cheney is expected to deliver a major address in Missouri today charging that Kerry's record shows he would be unsuitable to serve as commander in chief in an era that requires an unwavering leader who can recognize gathering threats and is willing to speak out against them, even when that is difficult or unpopular. Aides said Cheney will say the president must set a clear and consistent foreign policy, and support a military strong enough to use decisive power as a last resort.

Kerry's campaign said he will focus first on Cheney's record as defense secretary under President George H.W. Bush, charging that Cheney proposed cuts to weapons critical to recent military operations. Bush's campaign replied that Cheney took his stands during the peace-dividend rollback of the military after the Soviet Union collapsed.

On Wednesday, Kerry is to turn to White House efforts to prevent disclosure of records of an energy-policy task force led by Cheney. On Friday, Kerry plans to highlight Cheney's connections to the Halliburton Co., a major U.S. contractor in Iraq.

Bush aides said they considered it a victory to have Kerry campaigning against Cheney instead of Bush and talking about national security.

Bush's campaign today will begin a heavy run of ads charging that Kerry "has repeatedly opposed weapons vital to winning the war on terror." For the first time, the campaign is customizing ads for specific swing states to highlight locally made systems or components Kerry has opposed. The campaign is also staging a two-week "Winning the War on Terror Tour," in which Republican officials and decorated veterans will appear at plants that make weapons Kerry has opposed.

The Republican National Committee is also urging lawmakers to tell constituents about a position paper from Kerry's first Senate campaign, in 1984, in which he called for $45 billion to $53 billion in cuts to President Ronald Reagan's defense budget, saying there is "no excuse for casting even one for unnecessary weapons of destruction." Kerry told the Boston Globe in 1993 that some of those positions were "ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I've learned since then."

Kerry is targeting the vice president during the week that Bush and Cheney are scheduled to appear together for private questioning by the independent panel investigating the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Ninety minutes before Cheney's speech in Missouri, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe is to give a speech in Washington accusing Bush's campaign of trying "to smear John Kerry's service to America."

"Why should we believe a word Dick Cheney says about John Kerry?" McAuliffe's remarks state. "For four years, Dick Cheney hasn't been straight with the American people."

Cheney's role as Bush's attack dog highlights one of the many reasons some Democrats are prodding Kerry to choose a running mate quickly: It would give him a prominent surrogate to hammer away at the president. The use of McAuliffe to respond to Cheney is notable because some of Kerry's advisers have said McAuliffe is seen as too partisan and bombastic.

Yesterday, Kerry launched a week-long bus tour of the industrial Midwest to criticize Bush for jobs lost under the president's watch, and to highlight new employment-creating proposals -- from tax breaks for manufacturers to spreading new technologies such as broadband Internet access.

Bush is to speak about such technologies today in Minnesota, where he plans to announce what the White House calls "innovation economy" policies.

Over the next five days, Kerry will roll through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan, states with two distinguishing characteristics: They have lost manufacturing jobs and are considered pivotal swing states for November.

At the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines yesterday, Kerry stuck to his standard speech, save for a brief poke at the Bush administration for declining to show photos of coffins sent back from Iraq with the bodies of soldiers. "We should not hide that from Americans," Kerry said. "If they are good enough to go fight and die, they are good enough to be received home with full honors."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who endorsed Howard Dean during the primaries, made a not-so-subtle vice presidential plug for Tom Vilsack, the state's governor. Vilsack is one of more than half a dozen Democrats under consideration.

Harkin reminded the audience that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in troubled times, turned to an Iowan for his running mate: Henry Agard Wallace in 1940.

VandeHei reported from Des Moines.

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