Vice President Cheney attacked Sen. John F. Kerry on Saturday for past votes against a ban on flag burning, as the Bush-Cheney campaign opened a broad assault on the Democrat's record on social issues.
The flag-burning issue has intense resonance, because Bush's father used it to devastating effect in 1988 against another Massachusetts Democrat, then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis.
Cheney said that Kerry "is so far out of the mainstream that he voted three times against a ban on flag burning." The Bush-Cheney campaign said the votes occurred in 1989, 1995 and 2000.
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer called Cheney's remarks "shrill" and said the Republicans bring up patriotism at their peril. "Considering that Dick Cheney got five deferments from the military to avoid seeing combat, he's the last person who should be attacking Vietnam vet John Kerry's commitment to the flag," Singer said.
Cheney spoke at a time when Kerry is talking increasingly about values. Discussing rural voters with a television interviewer in Minnesota on Friday, Kerry said, "I actually represent the conservative values that they feel."
The Bush-Cheney campaign expects such issues to be major advantages in the swing states of the upper Midwest. Campaign officials said Cheney's remarks marked the opening of a broad offensive that will include presidential speeches and advertising leading into the Democratic National Convention at month's end. The officials said they were looking for an opening, and Kerry gave it to them.
"Sometimes, I think John Kerry develops amnesia when he gets out on the campaign trail," Cheney said at Wheeling Park High School. "His latest thing is to tell audiences that he holds 'conservative values.' Did he forget his voting record -- the voting record that makes him the most liberal member of the United States Senate?"
A National Journal survey rated Kerry as the most liberal senator, partly because he had so few votes.
Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman said Kerry's statement was an effort to reinvent himself because he knows his 20-year voting record will not sell in the upper Midwest. "This is a consistent pattern where he makes statements which are so contrary to the facts that it's almost as if he hopes no one checks them," Mehlman said.
Cheney also noted a vote by Kerry against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, know as Laci's Law. He also noted three Kerry votes against requiring minors to notify their parents before getting an abortion, and six votes against a ban on the late-term procedure that opponents call partial birth abortion.
"On these and a whole host of values, John Kerry's votes and statements over the decades that he's been in office put him on the left, out of the mainstream, and out of touch with the conservative values of the heartland," Cheney said.