Sun, Jul 18, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US capital abuzz at Cheney rumor


Rumors grew this week that US President George W. Bush would dump Vice President Dick Cheney and replace him with a more appealing candidate to counter the surge of his Democratic rivals.

Speculation was so strong that Cheney was forced to address his future on the Republican ticket, denying that Bush intended to dump him in favor of a more popular candidate.

Bush had made it "very clear he doesn't want to break up the team," Cheney said in a CSPAN interview to be aired today. He added he could not envision a scenario in which he would leave the ticket.

Bush, for his part, stepped up his time on the campaign trail, making visits to several states this week to pitch his administration's accomplishments and defend his decision to invade Iraq.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," Bush told a crowd in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Some Republicans had reportedly raised concerns that Cheney had become a burden, especially as polls showed voters strongly favored his Democratic rival, John Edwards, for the No. 2 spot.

Democrats have criticized Cheney, saying the Iraq war has benefited the firm he used to head, Halliburton, which has won millions of dollars in contracts to rebuild the country, and for being too influential on Bush.

The latest buzz around Washington was sparked by a New York Times article on Thursday that said Cheney had fired his previous doctor, who was said to have abused prescription drugs.

A new physician could then conveniently determine that Cheney, who has suffered from four heart attacks, was not physically fit to stay on as vice president, giving Bush an opportunity to choose a new candidate.

The paper's article prompted the White House to reaffirm Bush's commitment to Cheney.

"This is a campaign season," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "There's going to be a lot of `Inside the Beltway' rumor-mongering going on, and that's all this is."

If Cheney were to leave, speculation pointed to Senator John McCain as a replacement. McCain opposed Bush for the Republican nomination in 2000 but remains widely popular with US voters.

The maverick Republican had reportedly been coveted by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, but insisted he would not join his party's rival. Kerry eventually chose Edwards.

McCain and Cheney sought to downplay rumors during a joint campaign stop. McCain praised him as an important advisor.

Just over a week before the Democrats start their convention in Boston, Kerry and Edwards, after a brief honeymoon last week, split up on the campaign to double their efforts to reach out across the US.

"I believe in building up our great middle class, especially the millions of Hispanic Americans who are working hard and still struggling to get ahead," Edwards said at a rally in Los Angeles.

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