Cheney and Lieberman differ politely in vice presidential debate

Friday, October 6th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney disputed their differences and promoted their tickets in a mannerly vice presidential debate that left the tough tactics for next time, when Al Gore and George W. Bush meet again.

The Democratic and Republican vice presidential nominees argued, but politely, opening with promises to avoid personal attacks and keeping them. They parted Thursday night after a smiling, pat-on-the-back chat, joined by their wives, before rallying with their supporters.

After the debate, Cheney told ABC that he was pleased with his performance.

``I thought we had a very good night,'' he said.

Lieberman said he avoided personal attacks because he didn't consider it fitting.

``I would have been reaching tonight, just based on the questions asked, to have pushed that in, and I didn't think it was appropriate _ and not necessary,'' he said. ``I thought we had a good exchange of views.''

He added, ``If Dick Cheney had gotten much into my record, I might have gotten into his.''

A poll taken minutes after the debate indicated that he might have done better bringing up his opponents' records. An ABC News telephone poll of 539 registered voters found that 43 percent thought Cheney had won the debate. Twenty-four percent thought Lieberman had won and 27 considered the matchup a tie.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 points.

During the debate, both candidates welcomed the major world event of the day, the apparent crumbling of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia. But they differed on the credit for it.

``I think that Vice President Gore played a critical role, passionate role, in leading the administration, along with Republican supporters like Bob Dole and John McCain, to do the right thing in the Balkans, and hopefully tonight we're seeing the final results of that bold and brave action,'' Lieberman said.

Cheney called it a victory of the Serbian people. ``I do think it's noteworthy that there appears to be an effort underway to get the Russians involved,'' he said. ''... At the debate in Boston, Governor Bush suggested exactly that we ought to try to get the Russians involved to exercise some leverage over the Serbians, and Al Gore pooh-poohed it.''

Gore said then that Russian mediation would not be a good idea because Moscow hadn't accepted the results of the election in which Vojislav Kostunica defeated Milosevic.

It was a vice presidential debate heavy on numbers, echoing those Gore and Bush used on tax cuts, Social Security, surpluses and assorted other policies when they debated.

After the debate, Lieberman was flying to Orlando, Fla., to campaign there with Gore on Friday. Cheney campaigns next in Shreveport, La.; Fort Smith, Ark., and Waterloo, Iowa.

At a rally at Lousiana State University in Shreveport, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, lashed out at Gore's credibility, painting the vice president as dishonest about his tax policy and about the state of the military.

``I once wrote a book called 'Telling the Truth.' I am sending an autographed copy to the vice president,'' said Lynne Cheney.

Cheney said the debate helped highlight the differences between the Democratic ticket, which he said stands for bigger government, and the Bush-Cheney ticket, which will cut taxes and give Americans more choices.

``These are not minor differences, these are not fuzzed up politics as usual you-can't-tell-one-crowd-from-the-other,'' said Cheney. ``The fact of the matter is that for eight years the Clinton-Gore administration has not delivered ...They have failed.''

The presidential nominees meet again next Wednesday in Winston-Salem, N.C., and in St. Louis a week later.

Their opening debate Tuesday night was far sharper in tone than the vice presidential forum; Bush challenged Gore on questions of character and credibility.

Lieberman later said it was a sign of desperation that the Republican nominee was trying to make an issue of President Clinton, although Bush didn't use his name.

Cheney has charged that Gore ``makes things up out of whole cloth'' as he campaigns.

But there was none of that in the Danville.

``I'm not going to indulge in negative personal attacks,'' Lieberman said.

Cheney seconded that. ``I want to avoid any personal attacks,'' he said. ``I promise not to bring up your singing.''

``I promise not to sing,'' said Lieberman, who had, warbling ``My Way'' on a late night TV.

It was something of a reversal in form after past campaigns in which the vice presidential nominees took the hard line while the men at the top of the ticket were the high road campaigners, the better to present themselves as presidential figures.

Like Bush and Gore, the running mates Thursday argued about the state of the military, with an added note when Lieberman suggested it shouldn't be criticized in a campaign setting.

``The fact is the U.S. military is worse off today than it was eight years'' ago, said Cheney, who was secretary of defense until then.

``It's not right and it's not good for our military to run them down essentially in the midst of a partisan political debate,'' responded Lieberman.

``I'm not attacking the military, Joe,'' said Cheney. ``No one has higher regard for them than I do. It's irresponsible to suggest we shouldn't have that debate.''

He said the military now is ``overcommitted and under-resourced.''

One question was an invitation to Cheney to call Lieberman a hypocrite for changing positions since Gore put him on the ticket. Cheney didn't. ``We've been trying very hard to keep this on a high plane,'' he said.

``I do have a couple of concerns where I like the old Joe Lieberman better than I do the new Joe Lieberman,'' he said.

Cheney said one concern was Lieberman's apparent softening of his stance against violence in entertainment, suggesting it stemmed from the financial support Hollywood gives the Democrats.

Lieberman denied it, saying he is ``a consistent crusader'' against movie violence marketed to the young.

``I have not changed a single position since Al Gore nominated me to be his vice president,'' Lieberman said.