Cheney Said To Be Bush's VP Pick

Saturday, July 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Turning to a respected Washington insider in the final days of his search, George W. Bush is seriously considering former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as his Republican running mate, two highly placed GOP officials say.

Cheney, a former House member, White House chief of staff and defense secretary — and head of the vice presidential search team — changed his voter registration Friday from Texas to Wyoming to ensure he is eligible for the job if the governor decides to offer it, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. One said he is the leading contender.

Bush said he has not made his decision but will do so this weekend, promising to ponder ``long and hard'' in the privacy of his Texas ranch. ``The days of speculation are over,'' Bush said, and aides indicated an announcement could come as early next week, just days before the July 31 opening of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

The emergence of Cheney serves to shift focus away from a campaign by at least 60 House lawmakers to get Arizona Sen. John McCain on the ticket. Bush advisers say he has shown no inclination toward selecting his vanquished rival, and the lobbying effort is viewed as an unwelcome distraction at Bush's headquarters in Austin, Texas.

Others who have figured prominently in the speculation include Govs. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and George Pataki of New York; Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, both of Tennessee.

A respected public figure with a long record of service, Cheney would be a low-risk choice, something Bush signaled this week he wants.

At 59, he is just five years older than Bush but would bring a range of experience and stature lacking in the presumptive nominee. Bush has tried to close the gravitas gap with Vice President Al Gore, his Democratic rival, by suggesting that Washington veterans such as retired Gen. Colin Powell and McCain may be part of his administration.

One of the sources called Cheney the leading candidate, saying Bush was very close to settling on the man who once served under Bush's father, former President Bush. A second official, also familiar with the selection process, cautioned that Bush normally doesn't rank his personnel choices in terms of front-runners and leading candidates.

Both sources said Bush could still turn elsewhere, noting that he has kept his own counsel.

The officials made the disclosure after confirming that Cheney, a Texas businessman, switched his voter registration to Wyoming. ``Today was the last day for him to register to vote in Wyoming so he could be a viable candidate for the governor's consideration,'' one official said.

Cheney wanted to avoid conflict with language in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution that forbids Electoral College members in Texas from voting for both the president and vice president who are ``inhabitants'' of their state.

Cheney, who has a history of heart trouble, would be a surprise pick. He suggested weeks ago that he would not be a candidate, after accepting the job of reviewing the backgrounds of potential candidates and helping Bush narrow his list.

Cheney worked in the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Cost of Living Council and the White House in the 1970s, serving as President Ford's chief of staff. He served six terms in Congress from Wyoming before going to the Pentagon under President Bush, where he was a key strategist in the Persian Gulf War.

Gov. Bush plucked Cheney from the oil services firm Halliburton Co., where he was chief executive officer.

In Congress, Cheney appealed to moderates but racked up a conservative voting record and was a solid Ronald Reagan supporter. He was mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Bush in 1992.

Cheney suffered three mild heart attacks by age 48 and has undergone coronary bypass surgery.

A rare black mark on his record: He admitted writing 21 bad checks from the House bank but told the Ethics Committee that investigated the banking scandal that he always had a positive balance and no checks were returned for insufficient funds.

Cheney emerged as the leading contender as the Bush campaign tried to dampen a lobbying effort on behalf of McCain.

The Arizona senator, who battled Bush unsuccessfully for the nomination — and is anything but close to the Texas governor — was injected forcefully into the late speculation. Several Republican sources said the head of the GOP House campaign committee, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, had solicited signatures on a letter to the Bush campaign urging consideration of the Arizona senator.

Bush gave no indication he would be influenced by the pressure, and observed he was certain that McCain would be a ``loyal soldier for my candidacy.''

McCain said, ``I don't believe anything has changed'' since a May meeting in which he told Bush he did not want to be considered.


EDITOR'S NOTE — AP reporters David Espo and Tom Raum contributed to this story.