Bush-Cheney ticket has debut before cheering supporters

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Auditioning the new Republican ticket, Texas Gov. George W. Bush presented Dick Cheney as his running mate on Tuesday, praising his father's one-time Pentagon chief as a seasoned statesman fully ''capable of being president.''

Bush told cheering supporters that, while he initially picked Cheney to oversee the vice presidential search, ''I gradually realized that the person who was best qualified ... was working by my side.''

Cheney, 59, whose long resume also includes serving as President Gerald Ford's chief of staff and representing Wyoming in Congress for six terms, said he initially resisted Bush's overtures.

''In the end, I learned how persuasive he can be,'' said the former defense secretary, a top strategist in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Bush campaign moved quickly to try to dispel concerns about Cheney's health, distributing statements from his doctors asserting he was fit to serve - despite three minor heart attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, heart surgery and continuing treatment for high cholesterol and gout.

''At this time, Mr. Cheney is in excellent health,'' wrote Dr.Gary Malakoff, director of general internal medicine at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

''I monitor him closely for his known medical problems. He is up to the task of the most sensitive public office,'' added Malakoff, Cheney's primary care physician since 1995.

Cheney is resigning as chief executive officer of Halliburton, the large energy services and construction company, and plans to sell his Dallas home.

The two candidates will hit the campaign trail on Wednesday for a visit to Wyoming, which Cheney last week reclaimed as his official residence for voting purposes. Cheney will also join Bush for part of an end-of-the week swing that will bring Bush to the Republican convention that open on Monday in Philadelphia.

''I can't wait for the delegates at our convention next week to hear from Dick Cheney and I will ask them to confirm this good man as our party's choice for vice president,'' Bush said.

Bush joked that he hadn't picked Cheney ''because of Wyoming's three electoral votes. ... I picked him because he is without doubt capable of being president of the United States and will be a valuable partner in a Bush administration.''

Bush made his announcement before a crowd of several hundred supporters in a room in a sports complex at the University of Texas. Many waved pom-poms and small American flags and shouted, ''Cheney! Cheney!''

''I enthusiastically accept the challenge for this reason: I believe you have the vision and the courage to be a great president,'' Cheney told Bush while his wife, Lynne, and Bush's wife, Laura, watched on.

After posing for group photographs, the two candidates mingled with the crowd.

Although Cheney is only five years older than the 54-year-old Bush, he represents a different political generation - and brings with him vast defense and foreign policy experience that the two-term Texas governor lacks. He also serves as a link with the 1989-92 administration of President Bush, the candidate's father.

Bush placed the call to Cheney from the governor's mansion at 6:22 a.m. local time. By then, Cheney was widely reported as the leading contender and GOP officials had leaked news of the decision Monday night.

Cheney's wife answered the phone because he was exercising on his treadmill, Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters.

After taking the call, Cheney told his wife, ''Honey, let's sell the house. I quit my job. We're going back into politics,'' Hughes recounted.

Bush then made calls to the also-rans, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, both of Tennessee. He also called Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, George Pataki of New York, Frank Keating of Oklahoma and Christie Whitman of New Jersey, and former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

When he first named Cheney to head the search team three months ago, Bush said Cheney told him he wasn't interested in being vice president. ''But I kept the thought of him joining me in the back of my mind,'' Bush said.

Bush said he asked him again on his central Texas ranch over the July 4th weekend. ''This time he said he was willing to talk with his family and consider it.''

Still, Cheney continued for three more weeks to sort through resumes for the vice presidential job - even though he realized he might be the one tapped, Bush aides said.

''He understood his assignment clearly,'' said Don Evans, a longtime adviser to Bush. Evans said that Bush and Cheney developed ''great respect for each other'' during the process.

Retired Gen. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the elder Bush's administration, had been speculated upon as a possible surprise choice.

But Powell, who has consistently said he is not interested in elective politics, said Tuesday he had made that lack of interest known to Bush early on - and that neither Bush nor intermediaries had sought to persuade him to change his mind.

''I was never a candidate. He respected my decision and the reasons for that decision, and he understood them,'' Powell told CNN.

Powell, widely believed to be a likely secretary of state in a Bush administration, praised Cheney for ''great strength of character,'' both in the Panama invasion and in the Persian Gulf conflict.

Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas political scientist and longtime Bush watcher, said that Cheney brings ''a lot of gray sageness'' to the ticket.

''His health is a bit of a minus. And the name is not going to quicken the pulses of the masses. But the most important thing is that Bush likes him and trusts him,'' Buchanan said.


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