One day after their fierce debate in Ohio, Vice President Cheney and Democrat John Edwards took their argument south to Florida, where their words had hardly cooled from the night before.
Both vice presidential campaigns tried to keep what they regarded as their best debate lines echoing, in separate appearances Wednesday. While Cheney made little mention of the nationally televised encounter, his wife, Lynne, was still brimming with enthusiasm.
"I'm thinking of putting together Cheney's big hits," Lynne Cheney said to applause here. "There are so many favorites from last night."
But one debate moment that thrilled partisans -- when Cheney said that Edwards's Senate absenteeism was so severe that the two men had never met, even though the vice president said he goes to the Senate weekly -- was hardly working to the Republican ticket's advantage. Much of the post-debate commentary focused on Cheney's error, when it turned out he and Edwards had met on a handful of occasions, including a prayer breakfast.
"Three years ago I sat with the vice president," Edwards told a rally in West Palm Beach. "We shook hands. We talked . . . we were there for a couple of hours together," he said referring to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2001.
"Last night, again, we got a chance to sit together to shake hands . . . but I'll tell you one thing, he won't forget we were there last night."
This explanation was not good enough for Republicans. "I know it's a good thing to go to a prayer breakfast sometimes, but don't you think the senator should go to the Senate every once in a while?" Lynne Cheney said.
These long-distance exchanges -- in a state where the razor-thin 2000 presidential race was decided amid controversy by the U.S. Supreme Court -- underscored the intensity of the campaign in Florida. Cheney is spending the rest of the week here, and noted to one audience that the recent wave of hurricane disasters has limited his and President Bush's ability to campaign here.
"We have a lot of lost time to make up for," he said. Still, this is Cheney's 11th visit to the state. The vice president hosted the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on Air Force Two before heading to an afternoon event in Gainesville.
Overnight ratings indicated an estimated 43.5 million viewers watched the vice presidential debate, 14 million more than the one in 2000. There was no strong consensus Wednesday among political and media analysts about who had gotten the upper hand, though many credited Edwards with being Cheney's equal on questions of policy, despite his much shorter government resume. Both campaigns said the vice presidential performances had energized partisans, and set up their running mates for the next presidential debate on Friday in St. Louis.
Edwards devoted much of Wednesday to echoing Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's charge that the administration is not speaking truthfully about the extent of problems in Iraq and is resorting to attacks to camouflage weaknesses in the White House record.
"We have a vice president and president who still struggle with the truth," Edwards told the crowd in the West Palm Beach convention center, where partisans -- a diverse mix dominated by senior citizens and college students -- held up red, white and blue signs and responded with roars to Edwards's claim that Bush is "out of touch" with realities on national security and domestic issues such as health care.
"Whether it's jobs, health care, the things that need to be done for our economy," Edwards said, "you can't fix these problems until you recognize that there is a problem."
Later in the day, referring to reports that former administrator L. Paul Bremer has said the administration did not send enough troops to handle the postwar occupation in Iraq, Edwards boomed, "They can't fix the mess when they don't even realize there is a mess."
Cheney, too, reached for a familiar line of criticism.
"John Edwards goes out and says we're going to crush the terrorists, the problem with that is there isn't anything in John Kerry's background over the last 30 years to give you any reason to believe that he would in fact be tough in terms of prosecuting the war on terror," Cheney told about 400 people, who gave him nearly a dozen standing ovations during the hour-long town hall meeting here.
Wiggins is traveling with Cheney; Jenkins is traveling with Edwards.