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NEW YORK -- On the first night of the Republican National Convention, about 70 family members and friends of Dick Cheney gathered in a large function room on a top floor of the posh St. Regis Hotel for an unpublicized, quiet two hours with him. It was a port in the storm for an unpopular vice president.
Actually, Cheney is very popular with some 5,000 delegates and alternates at Madison Square Garden. He will be received enthusiastically tonight when he becomes the first bona fide conservative to speak during prime time at this convention. Yet, there are influential Republicans behind the scenes who confide their publicly unspoken thoughts that George W. Bush made a major mistake in keeping Cheney for a second term.
That typifies the contradictions surrounding Richard B. Cheney. He is probably the most influential vice president ever, but lacks public approval. He is Bush's least dispensable lieutenant, but may be a liability in this year's campaign. He is an aggressive campaigner but seems ill at ease in the public view.
Today's convention theme is "A Land of Opportunity." CNN, C-SPAN, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS will provide prime-time coverage for the following speakers. ABC, CBS and NBC will provide coverage from 9-10 p.m.
* Michael Reagan
* Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
* Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), keynote address
* Lynne Cheney
* Vice President Dick Cheney
* Arnold: Bush will terminate terror
* Keyes skips breakfast talk to delegates
* Kirk says future for Illinois GOP rests in suburbs
* Free spa pampers media messengers with massages
* Daley rips rude 'fringe groups'
* Sweet: Giuliani, McCain give Bush what Kerry sorely lacks
* Novak: Delegates love Cheney, but some wonder if he should go
* Mitchell: Project shows GOP sincere about compassion
* Sneed: Scoopsville . . .
The image of the cold, unapproachable former Halliburton CEO also contrasts with the 63-year-old career public servant in the bosom of his friends at the St. Regis for a beef buffet dinner early Monday evening. Prominent political figures close to Cheney -- including former vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and former Senate Republican Whip Alan Simpson -- mixed with ordinary friends of the vice president. A microphone was set up for Cheney to speak, but he never got around to it at what turned out to be an intimate social event.
On par with Giuliani
When Cheney and his family dropped into the convention hall for the opening session Monday morning, he got a warm greeting. That confirmed the New York Times survey that showed 94 percent approval by the 2004 Republican delegates, exactly the same number registered by the immensely popular former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. It compares with 62 percent for the much more controversial Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
The most important comparison with nearly 100 percent backing from the delegates is public opinion surveys of all American adults. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken July 19-21 showed only 47 percent approval of Cheney. That was robust compared with 29 percent in the Pew survey of Aug. 5-10.
These polls constitute harsh public disapproval for a public figure who four years ago was not widely recognized by the general public but certainly was not the object of disapproval.
Cheney's decline is much different from problems of recent Republican vice presidents. Nobody accuses the former White House chief of staff, House Republican whip and secretary of defense of incompetence or inability to perform his duties as they did Dan Quayle. He has not antagonized political opponents with frontal assaults as Spiro T. Agnew did.
But Cheney has been relentlessly demonized by Democrats as the multimillionaire Halliburton executive. His frequent absences from public view following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because he was at "an undisclosed location" became the raw material of comedy routines.
Only former Sen. Alphonse D'Amato of New York publicly called for Cheney's removal. But several Republicans in New York for the convention -- small in number but many of them highly influential -- agree that Cheney should have been dropped from the ticket.
Bush never considered change
While the senior President George Bush in 1992 seriously considered replacing Quayle, his son never even contemplated dumping Cheney. No vice president has ever exerted as much influence as Cheney on a wide variety of issues ranging from national security to economics.
Cheney has not been confined to an undisclosed location for some time. He has been active raising funds and exhorting the party faithful, and in New York this week has made the circuit addressing delegation breakfasts and luncheons.
He has taken on the traditional vice president's role in attacking the opposition. Addressing a Republican rally at Waterford, Mich., the week before the convention, Cheney said of Kerry: "I sometimes think he views the world as if we had never been attacked." Tailoring his remarks to his audience, the vice president said Kerry "doesn't have an SUV except when he's talking to people in Michigan."
Will Dick Cheney take the same tone when he addresses supportive delegates at Madison Square Garden tonight? Or will he attempt a kinder, gentler pose, directing his remarks beyond the convention hall to the broader audience of American voters?
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