Sunday, August 15, 2004

Cheney and Edwards: The Me 2 Campaign

Cheney and Edwards: The Me 2 Campaign
In the Midwest, Aiming for Second Best

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2004; Page D01

DAYTON, Ohio -- Dick Cheney and John Edwards have a few things in common: They are both running for vice president and they are both Homo sapiens.

But you would struggle to find two greater stylistic opposites in American politics.

Edwards is a populist outsider; Cheney is a capitalist insider.

Edwards, who is 51 but looks younger, is known for his oratorical flair and exuberance. Cheney, who is 63 but looks older, is known for his reticence and discretion. He takes as a mantra, "You never get in trouble for something you don't say." (A quote he attributes to former House speaker Sam Rayburn.) Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, calls her relentlessly sunny husband "the most optimistic person I know." Cheney once took a personality test that found him best-suited to a career as a funeral director.

Edwards runs four miles a day. Cheney has had four heart attacks.

Edwards is "very beautiful," according to Teresa Heinz Kerry. Cheney is "not the prettiest face in the race," says President Bush.

"People keep telling me that Senator Edwards got picked for his good looks, charm and great hair," Cheney said in a speech here Thursday. "And I say to them, 'How do you think I got this job?' " The line -- a staple of his stump routine -- always brings giggles. But it also is revealing. These are very different men touting very different tickets to very different constituencies. To compare their manners, themes, applause lines and crowds is to glimpse the distinct anthropologies of the two campaigns for the presidency.

Traditionally, vice presidential candidates have served a set of prescribed functions. They are cheerleaders for their running mates and attack dogs against their opponents. In this campaign, they are playing to carefully screened audiences, who have usually been issued tickets. The crowds cheer, make noise, wave signs and do what they're supposed to do -- look good and giddy for television news clips, convey a sense of momentum.

Both men campaigned last week in battleground states of the Midwest. It's unknown whether either changed any minds. But their performances yield broader lessons.

On With the Show

Campaign venues in a general election are essentially TV studios. This is what it looked like Wednesday when Cheney, accompanied by his wife, Lynne, held a "town meeting" in the southwestern Missouri city of Joplin. The Cheneys sat side by side on a small stage amid flags, Bush-Cheney signs and 300 supporters who filled four risers around them. There were, at first glance, no more than two non-whites in the audience.

With muscled security guards standing everywhere, the setting looked a little like the "Jerry Springer Show" -- except that there was absolutely no disagreement here about anything. One member of the audience began a question by saying, "Just let Brother Ashcroft know that his fellow Missourians are praying with you guys."

The iconic town meeting provides a forum for citizens to engage community leaders in a vigorous exchange of concerns. The election town meeting provides true believers the chance to ask softball questions and applaud answers they already know and agree with.

On Friday, Edwards participated in a Kerry-Edwards version in front of a little yellow house in Flint, Mich. The "front porch" meeting -- a staple of the Kerry-Edwards campaign's roving studio -- convenes the candidate with a group of "regular people" who are going through some hardship, usually economic. The candidate will then tell the "regular people" how his prospective administration would address their concerns.

This could be any neighborly lawn scene, except for the bright lights and boom mikes and huge speakers and the mob of photographers on a flatbed truck and the entourage of about 200 staffers, media members, Secret Service agents, police officers and onlookers swarming 4021 Cuthberton.

Otherwise it all looked very intimate, authentic and unstaged.

Friday's meeting was actually held on a front yard because its host -- Philip Phelps, a 25-year-old pizza delivery man -- doesn't have a porch. Phelps was one of three "regular people" meeting with Edwards, all of whose hardships jibe neatly with the campaign's "Real Plan for a Strong Economy."

"It's very hard, isn't it?" Edwards asked after Phelps detailed his struggle to put himself through college. Edwards, deeply tanned, was hairsprayed and in a blue dress shirt with no tie. His hands were folded on his lap and his head bobbed in a slow, understanding nod while dozens of cameras clicked and a loud TV reporter did a live shot 25 feet away.

It started to rain.

Shirley Wood was telling Edwards how she was just laid off from her job at GM. He told her he was the son of a mill worker and had seen, firsthand, the ravages of plant closings. And that he and John Kerry are committed to keeping jobs in the United States and enforcing trade agreements.

It started to rain harder.

"Time to wrap up," an advance man said, and the lights went off and everyone slopped through the mud back to their vans and buses and limousines.

And Edwards thanked his panel of regular people for a "really great discussion," which lasted a total of 12 minutes.

Holding an Audience

Both Cheney and Edwards are at their best before small groups. Cheney, who had planned to teach political science before he entered politics, speaks into his chin, in the matter-of-fact mumbles of a professor who has been teaching the same class for 35 years. Sometimes, when the questions are asked, he looks distracted (he began swabbing his ear with his pinkie in Joplin). But he conveys the authority of one who has clearly been around and knows more than he's telling.

Edwards honed his speaking skills in front of juries. He is a whiz at eye contact and holding his hands far apart to project openness. He looks like a terrific listener, cocking his head, nodding rhythmically, asking empathetic questions. He looks like he feels your pain.

Cheney has been briefed on your pain. But his mind is heavy with the ominous. He is at his most commanding when discussing the prospective horrors of the post-9/11 age -- bioterror, beheadings. Speaking in a grave monotone, like the narrator of a Civil War documentary, Cheney leaves the hope-and-optimism stuff for the president.

The enemy is "sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal," Cheney said in a speech in Dayton, quoting from the 9/11 commission report. It's inevitable that the United States will be hit again. He leaves people nodding.

Edwards leaves them pumped. He is a rollicking speaker, with a booming, drawling voice that gains momentum as he goes. After the front porch meeting, Edwards addressed a rally of 1,000 people who waited in the rain for him to arrive at Mott Community College in Flint. "HELLO, FLINT!" Edwards yelled like an arena rocker, making sure to sure to "thank y'all for waitin' out in the rain" and stirring his crowds to responsive chants of "Hope is on the way."

Edwards's surefire applause lines include: The GOP is bent on "tearing us apart, not bringing us together," any reference to nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the president's "go it alone" foreign policy, the shame of having 35 million people living in poverty in the United States, the need for a higher minimum wage and the acknowledgment that the country has "a long way to go" on civil rights.

Cheney's applause lines include: the need to confirm the Bush administration's judicial nominations, the need to curtail "junk lawsuits," mentions of God, particularly as relating to attempts to strike the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, and any mention of "the sanctity of life," tax relief, the right to bear arms and George W. Bush.

Edwards is often accompanied by his two young children, ages 4 and 6. Cheney was joined last week by his daughter Liz, who was backstage bottle-feeding her 5-week-old son, Philip. Lynne Cheney mentioned Philip while introducing her husband in Battle Creek, Mich., assuring everyone that they are "training him to be a Republican."

Cheney often begins his speeches by saying something about the place he's visiting. "People call Battle Creek the breakfast capital of the world," he said of the city that is home to the Kellogg corporation. "From the looks of things," he said, looking out at the ticket-holding crowd of 400, "Battle Creek is the Bush-Cheney capital of the world."

From the looks of things, the Bush-Cheney capital of the world ends at the walls of Lakeview High School. Outside, 150 protesters were holding Kerry-Edwards and other signs ("Where are the jobs? Where are those WMDs?)."

As he did during his campaign for the Democratic nomination, Edwards talked relentlessly about his humble beginnings as a millworker's son in the Carolinas. He told how he was the first person in his family to go to college and how he saw the injustice of racial discrimination firsthand growing up in the South. Edwards -- who is likely to run for president in 2008 or 2012 -- talks much more about himself in speeches than does Cheney, who has no interest in seeking the Oval Office.

Edwards's speech in Flint was interrupted by chants of "Edwards, Edwards," which he acknowledged with pumped fists.

Cheney's was interrupted by chants of "four more years," which he acknowledged by quipping "I accept," a retort that serves the dual purpose of drawing laughter and shutting people up so the vice president can get on with his speech.

Attack Dogging

Cheney's attacks are often sarcastic. He frequently quotes Kerry's statement that he both supported and opposed the funding to provide resources to U.S. troops in Iraq: "I actually voted for the $87 million before I voted against it."

"Well," Cheney says, "that certainly clears things up."

Lynne Cheney is an able attack dog in her own right.

"I'd like to direct this question to Mrs. Cheney," one supporter asked in Joplin. "Senator Kerry has made the statement that he'd like to fight a more sensitive war on terror. What could he possibly mean by that?"

He was referring to a speech by Kerry last week in which he said, "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Kerry's "more sensitive" quote would become the centerpiece of an attack that Cheney would launch against him in a speech the next day. Bush-Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack said none of the town meeting questions were scripted and that the timing of the man's question was "purely coincidental."

Either way, Lynne Cheney can wax sarcastic in her own right . "I can't imagine al Qaeda is going to be impressed with our sensitivity," she said, going on to say that Kerry's philosophy is akin to "the kind of left-wing foolishness that suggests that problem is somehow with us, not the terrorists who attacked us."

While Dick Cheney derides Kerry with a kind of grandfatherly disdain, Edwards attacks Bush with the polished outrage of a lawyer. His eyes go squinty and his voice low and even. At the Flint rally on Friday, Edwards defended Kerry from Cheney's attack the previous day.

"The vice president picked out one word and distorted it to argue that John Kerry will not keep America safe." He reeled off the standard litany of Kerry's Vietnam exploits: how he volunteered for duty after college, how he suffered injuries, how he saved the life of a crewmate. And the home crowd loved it.

Pressing the Flesh

Cheney says he likes to campaign, to meet people. But his manner on the stump often betrays all the joy of someone cleaning an oven. After speaking to a rally at a high school in Battle Creek, the vice president grimaced forth and worked a ropeline, the back of his bald head now covered in red, white and blue confetti. Edwards lunges into crowds, grabbing for every hand and clutching them for several seconds at a time. Cheney approaches handshakes as if trying to pick mosquitoes out of the air with one hand. He makes quick and minimal contact.

Edwards loves babies and toddlers. In Flint, he leaned four-deep into a crowd so he could grab tow-headed Bennett Rauscher, 2 1/2, of East Lansing. He held him, hugged him and hoisted him for the cameras.

"Hey, he has a sister, too," Bennett's mom yelled to Edwards, and Edwards gladly performed the same routine with twin sister Audrey.

When a woman in Battle Creek handed Cheney her baby, he carried the kid for a few seconds and then handed him back, no kiss. In the next three minutes, he would quick-pinch about 100 more hands.

As he walked out a back door, the vice president vigorously rubbed his hands with sanitizing lotion provided by an aide.

Faces in the Crowd

One of the odd things about a Dick Cheney event is that many people in the crowd and dignitaries on the podium look like Dick Cheney. There appears to be a higher proportion of bald, white men wearing glasses here than in the general population. They exude calm, certainty and, not surprisingly, unabashed love for the president and his Christian values, and flagrant distaste for his opponent.

"I just saw something on 'Hannity & Colmes' about Kerry," said Teece Davenport, a bartender from Joplin. "Some of his shipmates in Vietnam were questioning his integrity. He sounds like a big liar to me."

Of Edwards, Joe Barfield of Carl Junction, Mo., said, "I have no respect for some guy who goes around chasing ambulances."

And the sentiment is mutual.

"I think Cheney is a [expletive] corporate thug," said Larry Roehrig, the secretary and treasurer of Michigan AFSCME Council 25, who attended both Edwards events in Flint. "And his buddy Bush comes off like a spoiled rich kid to us union members."

"Finally, after four years, we'll have a vice president who smiles," said former Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson, who introduced Edwards at a rally Friday night in Minneapolis. "We'll even have a vice president who enjoys campaigning, that loves people."

Who says this country is divided?