Vice President Cheney said Thursday that he is "an angry father" after his daughter Mary was singled out as a lesbian by John F. Kerry in the final presidential debate. The Massachusetts senator issued a statement of clarification but not regret.
Cheney used his remarks to chanting fans at a post-debate rally at Florida Gulf Coast University to kick off the final push toward Nov. 2 with a fierce attack on the Democratic presidential nominee, saying that what the debate "so clearly revealed is that John Kerry is not a man of strong character."
"You saw a man who will say and do anything in order to get elected," Cheney said, drawing boos. "And I am not speaking just as a father here, though I am a pretty angry father. But I'm also speaking as a citizen." He repeated the remarks later in Lakeland.
In answering a debate question about whether homosexuality is a choice, Kerry said it is not. "I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as," Kerry said.
After the vice president's morning remarks, Kerry issued a three-sentence statement that the campaign said was not an apology. "I love my daughters. They love their daughter," he said. "I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue."
The vice president was following the lead of his wife, Lynne, who said minutes after the debate Wednesday that Kerry's comment was "a cheap and tawdry political trick" that makes him "not a good man." Aides said both Cheneys were furious and thought Kerry could have used another example if his motives were pure.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has generally refrained from criticizing his friend Kerry, said while campaigning with President Bush that Kerry's remark was "inappropriate" and added, "Maybe Senator Kerry didn't appreciate the sensitivity."
Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), took a less conciliatory tack than Kerry, telling ABC Radio that Lynne V. Cheney "overreacted to this and treated it as if it's shameful to have this discussion."
"I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences," Elizabeth Edwards said.
The Cheneys have two daughters. Mary Cheney, a former Coors Brewing Co. emissary to the gay community, heads vice presidential operations for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Liz Cheney is a former State Department official who often brings her children to campaign events.
Kerry's decision to point to Mary Cheney stirred a firestorm among activists in both parties. Some Democrats said that their liberal friends at debate-watching parties gasped at what they considered a gratuitous reference by Kerry.
Republicans said they considered it an underhanded way for Kerry to portray Bush as hypocritical for supporting a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, as well as to try to hurt the president with his base of religious conservatives. John Edwards mentioned Mary Cheney during the vice presidential debate last week and again Thursday, telling MSNBC's Chris Matthews, "Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, had themselves brought it up" in the campaign four years ago.
Nicolle Devenish, Bush-Cheney campaign communications director, called Kerry's comment "totally gratuitous" and one that "they'll pay a heavy price for" politically.
At the final debate Wednesday night, Bush said he does not know whether homosexuality is a choice but said it is important to "treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity." Cheryl Jacques, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights organization, said that "Bush missed one more chance to denounce discrimination last night, so it is bewildering that Lynne Cheney instead attacked Senator Kerry."
Allen reported from Washington. Chris L. Jenkins, traveling with Edwards, contributed to this report.