On Tuesday, partisan protesters outside a hotel where Texans were staying for the Republican National Convention caused quite a scene, wearing pig snouts and saying they worked for "Hallibacon" -- a play on Vice President Cheney's former company -- and chanting: "We love money. We love war. We love Cheney even more."
It seems like only yesterday that Cheney was considered by both parties as the savior of the GOP ticket -- offering George W. Bush in 2000 the intellectual heft and foreign policy experience he needed. But that was long before the war with Iraq.
Now, as Cheney readies to accept his party's nomination for a second time Wednesday night, the former defense secretary is consistently portrayed by Democrats not as a savior but as a Svengali who pushed the president into an ill-advised war so Halliburton could profit from the rebuilding of Iraq. There was buzz for weeks -- unfounded -- that he would leave the ticket, as the war became an escalating issue.
This week, however, Cheney, 63, has been unequivocally praised by delegates and other Republicans -- and there is no talk about him going anywhere. Still, polls suggest that Cheney starts the fall campaign as a polarizing figure. Voters say they think that he has more experience than Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards, but also that he is not as likable as the boyish North Carolina senator.
In a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken over the weekend, only 14 percent of likely voters had no opinion of the vice president, while 45 percent had an unfavorable view of him -- as high as it has been all year -- and 41 percent had a favorable view of him.
Although these numbers confirm the GOP contention that Cheney is invaluable in energizing the party's conservative base, campaign officials maintain his value goes further -- and that his senior statesman demeanor works well among independent voters. Cheney, they say, will spend considerable time this fall -- as he has this summer -- in battleground states, starting Friday, when he heads to Oregon and Nevada.
"He has been the president's best advocate on the widest range of issues," adviser Mary Matalin said. "The reason he comes across as an enigma is because he has never sought a profile -- and that's what the president likes about him."
Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said: "He is a very attractive messenger for us. He articulates issues in an authoritative way and is very effective in drawing contrasts between the president and John Kerry."
Campaign sources say that in his acceptance speech Wednesday night, Cheney will talk about the historical context for the war on terrorism and how Bush is best equipped to lead the nation during these times. Cheney will also make the point, Matalin said, that "there is a judgment issue and a consistency issue with Senator Kerry, and that it's worth looking at."
Delegates and prominent Republicans said they are very comfortable with Cheney on the ticket -- and maintain that the race is not about him, in any case. According to a CBS survey of delegates this week, Cheney is overwhelmingly popular among the Republican delegates, with 94 percent viewing him favorably.
A number of delegates interviewed here cited Cheney's experience and noted that he brings a sense of security to the ticket. "He makes people feel safe," said Mary Lou Parker of Buffalo. "He's a very good adviser to the president who is very loyal."
"My sense is that he is not a problem" among Republicans, former Massachusetts governor William Weld said. "He has a very important role, and that is to energize the base. The party loves him -- that's no secret."
Cheney's recent comments opposing the president's efforts to outlaw same-sex marriage federally may have angered some conservatives, but it unquestionably softened his image and helped him with GOP moderates. On the same day that the Republican National Convention platform committee unveiled strong language opposing same-sex unions, infuriating gays in the party, Cheney spoke personally about his daughter being gay and said the matter should be left to the states.
"How many issues have you heard the vice president oppose the president on in the last four years? That would be one. This is the time," said Stephen F. Scherock, who heads the New York City chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay conservatives. "It's a matter of personal conscience for him."
But Democrats and activists clearly see Cheney as an easy target and believe he can continue to be an issue, as they repeatedly draw attention to the fact that his former company Halliburton has profited from the war.
"Dick Cheney has become a modern-day Spiro Agnew, the living embodiment of a failed policy in Iraq that planned profits for Halliburton but didn't have a plan to win the peace," Kerry spokesman David Wade said. "Cheney is trouble for Bush because he's the snarling face of George Bush's dangerous, overly ideological, right-wing choices for the country."
Still, Republicans say the partisan agitating is just a sideshow. "The war is too big an issue for it to fall on the vice president," said former representative Vin Weber (R-Minn.). "For Democrats to blame the war on him, and then say he pushed Bush into it -- it's too many dots to connect. They'd run out of ink."
Besides, Weber added, all the recent negative publicity about Cheney's sour demeanor and outsized power have lowered expectations and "set him up to do well in the debates" against Edwards, a facile orator.
"He's an intelligent, steadfast man," said Eloise Henderson of Sacramento. "He has maturity -- so we don't come across like there's a bunch of kids running things. . . . I don't think people understand how dangerous the world is -- he does."
Henderson said she believes Cheney's approval numbers have deteriorated because "we've had four months of the media and Democrats just beating up on him nonstop."
Robin Smith of Chattanooga said she sees Cheney as the "shadow behind the man."
"Bush is like the shining ship that everyone sees, and Cheney is his anchor," she said. "He offers a sense of wisdom and experience."