Cheney says Kerry doesn't understand needs of the West

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Vice President Dick Cheney portrayed Democrat John Kerry as a flip-flopper from the Northeast who doesn't understand the needs of the West. "It's not only wildfires that shift with the wind," Cheney told supporters Friday.

"As westerners, the president and I understand the challenges that we face here in Nevada, especially when it comes to protecting residents from wildfires," Cheney said here during his first post-convention campaign swing.

But Cheney said Kerry has a different view. "He says he's in touch with the West," the Republican said with a smile before delivering the punch line. "He must mean western Massachusetts." The president's home is Texas. Cheney's from Wyoming.

A day after the Republican convention in New York, Cheney headed West to Oregon and Nevada, two hotly contested states.

In both states, Cheney focused on a regional issue, telling supporters that Bush helped enact "a good bipartisan law that is keeping forests healthier and communities safer."

Cheney then said Kerry didn't support the Healthy Forest Act when it was up for a vote. "Senator Kerry even said that thinning underbrush to prevent wildfires was the equivalent of taking a chain saw to the public forest," the vice president said.

Neither Kerry nor running mate John Edwards were present for the vote. Bush signed the measure into law in December.

Now, when Kerry campaigns in the West, Cheney said, the Democrat "turns his position around" and says he likes "a lot of the parts of the law."

"That makes one thing clear," Cheney said. "It's not only wildfires that shift with the wind."

The Kerry campaign accused the Bush administration of failing to fully fund the law.

"They left firefighters out to dry this summer," said Laura Capps, a Kerry-Edwards spokeswoman. She said the Democrats worked with governors of Western states to put together a forest-management plan that emphasized protecting communities.

Cheney accused Kerry of both supporting then opposing the Iraq war, the federal education reform law, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Patriot Act.

"These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds, saying one thing one day and another the next day," Cheney said in Oregon. "A senator can be wrong for 20 years without consequence to the nation, but a president, a president always casts the deciding vote."

Drawing from his convention address, Cheney added: "Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual. America sees two John Kerrys."

Cheney and his wife, Lynne, made a beeline from New York for Republican territory in eastern Oregon. In 2000, Al Gore won Oregon, but Bush carried Yumatilla County, where Cheney spoke, by a 2-1 margin.

At his two events Friday, Cheney ignored Kerry's criticism of the vice president and the president as avoiding service in Vietnam and being "unfit to lead the nation."

Responding to the comment, Anne Womack, Cheney's spokeswoman, said: "The Republicans just came out of a really exciting positive convention in which President Bush laid out an aggressive agenda for next four years. Senator Kerry's only response is to lash out and make personal attacks about the past. We think this election is about the future."


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