Dick Cheney Takes to the Stump

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Vice President Cheney marched onto Air Force Two Thursday morning with fat briefing books under each arm as he headed out for another day of tireless campaigning — which may not be his first love but turns out to be one of his most valuable gifts to a beleaguered Republican Party. The Vice President is so warmly received by the conservative faithful that he is routinely able to joke that his welcome is "almost enough to make me run for office again." He lets the laughter and applause die down and then deadpans, "Almost."

The Republican National Committee says the Vice President has raised an astounding $40 million for the midterm elections at 113 campaign events since his reelection, including $215,000 at a reception in Topeka for Congressman Jim Ryun and $180,000 tonight in New Orleans at a reception for the national party, to be held at a club with a 30th-floor view of the Mississippi River. While in Louisiana, he was also receiving briefings from the Army Corps of Engineers and from Don Powell, the federal coordinator of Gulf Coast reconstruction, and touring a barge company by the Port of New Orleans.

Cheney is hitting the road at a time when party strategists are fretting that their two-year effort to build turnout machines in key states and districts — and to "micro-target" people whose demography suggests they would vote Republican if they turned out — will come to naught because base supporters are so dispirited by Iraq, deficits and the Mark Foley Capitol Hill sex scandal. Leaders of social conservative groups say it's all putting a heavy drag on the party's core of support. But this is exactly where the Vice President has always been strongest, and he's working these crowds even harder than he did for the midterms of '02, when he also kept a heavy campaign schedule. The Vice President's office says the 113 events have benefited 138 different political committees, including 57 House campaigns, 32 national Republican groups or state parties, 20 Senate campaigns and four gubernatorial campaigns.

The Vice President often joked about his charisma deficit when he was on the road for his own ticket in 2004, and he tells applauding audiences these days, "Don't hold back!" In Houston, he joked, "At ease, please." He still jokes that as the lone Congressman from Wyoming, his delegation was small — "but it was quality." For the Topeka crowd today, he noted of his tie-breakers as president of the Senate, "The thing I've noticed is that every time I get to vote, our side wins."

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