Cheney's first campaign swing shows off Lynne Cheney's talents

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. - Admitting he's a little rusty at campaigning, Dick Cheney said Thursday he's ''getting back into the flow of things and getting comfortable with the role'' after being out of politics for several years.

He worked to spotlight on the GOP ticket's education program during his first solo campaign trip, yet the real star of the show turned out to be his wife Lynne.

In stops at a homeless shelter, where an aspiring teen singer serenaded the couple, and a classroom, where third-graders read to the Cheneys about eight-legged spiders, George W. Bush's vice presidential running mate seemed happy to turn the reins over to his wife.

Lynne Cheney, showing a talent for easygoing campaigning, comfortably hunkered down with kids while her husband, a stiffer presence at her side, stuck mainly with policy speeches.

''Why don't you go ahead ... you're the expert on reading,'' Cheney said to his wife as they settled into a classroom with third-graders taking a summer reading course at an elementary school in Columbus, Ohio.

Cheney came to Ohio on a three-day campaign swing through battleground states to tout Bush's ideas on education and social services.

The venues promised lots of photo opportunities with minority children and called for the kind of intimate, reach-out-and-touch someone interaction that Bush thrives on.

But Cheney, in his dark suits and muted style, looked and acted ever the serious defense secretary and corporate oil chief that he was - more comfortable speaking from notes behind a podium or addressing the person in charge and leaving the business of reading ''The Very Hungry Caterpillar'' to his wife.

''I think I will get better and more comfortable as I go through the process,'' said Cheney after a school rally in Kentucky on his first solo campaign trip. ''I spent 25 years in politics, then I got out of it. It's a matter of sort of getting back into the flow of things.''

His campaign operation also appears a little rusty.

''I'm glad to be here on the first day of school,'' he started to say when kids yelled out to correct him: ''Second!''

''That's bad advance work, but I'm glad to be here anyway,'' Cheney said.

A former political talk show pundit and writer who once headed the National Endowment for the Humanities, Lynne Cheney was in turn cajoling, soothing, serious and always completely at ease.

At a homeless shelter in St. Louis, she asked a 13-year-old aspiring singer to give a demonstration. The girl gamely agreed and belted out a song, bringing a round of applause. But the moment ended quickly as Cheney turned to the shelter's head of kids' programs to ask him about his background.

When another teen-ager faltered when trying to explain why she wanted to become a lawyer, Lynne Cheney urged her on, telling her ''You're doing great.''

Her husband empathized with the youngster. ''The cameras make me nervous,'' he told her.

It seemed obvious that Cheney got the job as Bush's No. 2 for his gravitas, experience (he served under three presidents) and his anti-President Clinton character - not for his political campaigning skills.

But he did a credible job delivering Bush's education message - that schools should be held accountable when student performance lags and parents should get federal funds to send kids to private schools when public schools fail - and pushing Bush's plan to provide federal funds to churches and faith-based groups that help needy Americans.

Members of the Kentucky State Education Association weren't impressed. They called Cheney's education record ''dismal'' and criticized Bush's plan to give parents federal vouchers.


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