Little more than two weeks ago, Dick Cheney visited Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee in his office on Capitol Hill and Mr. Frist made his pitch, explaining why his experience as a heart surgeon managing life-and-death situations made him the right man to accompany Gov. George W. Bush along the inevitably rocky road to Election Day and, perhaps, the White House.
Mr. Cheney appeared to listen intently. It was his job to supervise the Texas governor’s hunt for a running mate, and it was he who had arranged the meeting with Mr. Frist.
Several days after that, Mr. Bush flew to the Northeast and met twice with Gov. George E. Pataki of New York, discussing a possible place for Mr. Pataki on the Republican ticket.
For all this tantalizing activity, however, it now appears that Mr. Cheney had at the time already emerged as a leading candidate — and perhaps the leading candidate — for the slot he had been assigned to help fill. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush had discussed the possibility on July 3 at Mr. Bush’s ranch near Crawford, about 90 miles north of here.
Yet Mr. Cheney’s own candidacy was moving along a track so secret that some of the other politicians on the list of seemingly serious prospects had no idea that Mr. Bush was settling on him until they learned it from newspaper and television reports about 72 hours before Mr. Bush formally announced his decision.
Prominent Republicans who discussed the vice-presidential selection with Mr. Bush over the past two weeks, among them Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, said that the Texas governor had not let on that he was considering the head of his search committee for the post. He also did not inquire about how such a selection might play, even as he reviewed with them the qualifications of other potential candidates on his list.
In fact, the choice of Mr. Cheney was all but assured in the final days of frenzied speculation among news organizations, days that yielded some entirely unfounded reports: that Senator John McCain of Arizona might be a last-minute addition to Mr. Bush’s short list; that Mr. Bush was making a final, hopeful approach to Gen. Colin L. Powell. Mr. Bush was really just running Mr. Cheney through his mind one last time.
Mr. Cheney is an immensely respected political veteran, and his selection elicited praise from many Republicans. But the unusual way in which the former defense secretary ended up at Mr. Bush’s side at a news conference here on Tuesday to announce the vice-presidential selection has stirred concern among some Republicans.
They have noted with alarm the attacks Democrats were able to quickly muster on Mr. Cheney’s conservative voting record in Congress, and questioned whether the man in charge of screening the other candidates for the job could possibly have received as thorough a screening himself.
”What did they vet?” a senior Republican strategist with experience in national campaigns asked today. ”That he went to college? They really got their ears pinned back.”
Additionally, Mr. Cheney’s ties to former President George Bush have provoked renewed speculation about the influence of the governor’s father on his son’s presidential campaign. In a telephone interview today that represented his first public comments on the search process, President Bush said: ”What I see emerging is that the old guy drove the choice. That is absolutely inaccurate.”
But he acknowledged that he had spoken regularly with his son about the search and that he had given his opinions on various candidates, including Mr. Cheney.
And when he was asked if he had spoken directly to Mr. Cheney and urged him to think about taking the job, Mr. Bush said: ”I cannot reveal whether I did or didn’t. Not wanting to obfuscate, but put this down to obfuscation.”
”Please respect my age — 76,” he continued. ”I’m forgetful.”
Asked if that meant that he had forgotten whether he spoke with Mr. Cheney, his response suggested that the two men had talked, perhaps because Mr. Cheney was soliciting opinions about vice-presidential contenders, and the former president knew many of these people.
”I’m not going to get into what I talked to Dick Cheney or anybody else about,” President Bush said. ”You’ve got to put it in the context of what Dick Cheney was doing.”
According to Mr. Bush’s advisers, the review of Mr. Cheney’s credentials and background materials was conducted somewhat outside of the process that Mr. Cheney had established for the rest of the field, and it went forward at a much speedier pace.
Within minutes after Mr. Cheney’s selection was announced on Tuesday, Democrats produced a trove of extremely conservative votes from Mr. Cheney’s decade in Congress, and the barrage of questions about his record that hit Mr. Cheney and the Bush campaign seemed to take them at least partly by surprise.
Asked during an interview on ABC’s ”Good Morning America” today about several votes that he cast in opposition to gun control, Mr. Cheney said, ”Well, I’d have to go back and dig into that in detail.” In a previous interview on CNN’s ”Larry King Live,” Mr. Cheney seemed a bit unprepared for similar questions.
The Texas governor and his aides have declined to provide any more than rudimentary details about the vetting of the vice-presidential prospects, including Mr. Cheney, but said that all of them had been carefully scrutinized.
”Of course I knew his votes,” Mr. Bush said during a brief news conference today at the governor’s mansion here today. ”But I also know his record. What do you expect? I’m running against people who all they do is spend time tearing people down. And they’re going to give it their level best trying to tear Dick Cheney down, but they’re not going to be able to do so.”
Mr. Bush also suggested that most Americans already knew and respected Mr. Cheney as a result of his role as defense secretary during the Persian Gulf war. ”Secretary Cheney brought people together and helped to win a war,” he said, ”which stands in stark contrast with Vice President Al Gore, who tends to divide people to create war.”
Through his aides, Mr. Bush declined to be interviewed for this article. Mr. Cheney did not respond to several requests for an interview about the search process that were made through Mr. Bush’s aides.
But interviews with Republicans who spoke with Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush these past few weeks, including a number of men who were told they were on the short list of potential vice-presidential candidates, suggest that they underwent a process that was different from Mr. Cheney’s.
It is these differences that account for the murmurs of concern among some Republicans who have watched Mr. Cheney’s first few turbulent days as a candidate for vice president.
While Mr. Cheney took charge of reviewing financial histories and interviewing candidates, Mr. Bush himself attended to that chore in Mr. Cheney’s case. While Mr. Cheney researched the voting records of the other vice-presidential prospects, the task of assessing Mr. Cheney’s political past fell to Joe Allbaugh, the campaign manager. (Mr. Allbaugh also did not return a call for comment.)
While other candidates began submitting their voluminous paperwork around the beginning of June, in some cases shipping boxes of documents to Mr. Cheney, the examination of Mr. Cheney apparently began little more than a week before Mr. Bush called him and offered him the job.
And while at least 11 Republicans filled out an extraordinarily detailed, 83-question form — including inquiries about subjects ranging from plagiarism to recreational drug use — Mr. Bush’s senior advisers were unable to say if Mr. Cheney had taken the same step. They did note, however, that Mr. Cheney’s background had been reviewed when he was named secretary of defense by President Bush.
”Secretary Cheney told me he subjected himself to the same kind of scrutiny,” Karen P. Hughes, the campaign spokesman, said.
But unexplained oddities about the vetting of Mr. Cheney lingered. According to one Republican official, the name of his daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, a lawyer, was on the return address of materials that another candidate received, and Ms. Cheney helped place calls late last week to round up the weekend phone numbers of other vice-presidential prospects.
Asked about Ms. Cheney’s possible role in helping to screen candidates, including her father, Ms. Hughes said that except for Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush and Mr. Allbaugh, ”I am not able to discuss others who were involved in the vetting process.”
Mr. Cheney said on ”Good Morning America” that there was no cause for concern about the unusual way in which he came to be selected. Referring to Mr. Bush, he said: ”The fact of the matter is that we spent a lot of time — and again, remember my original advice to him was, you know, we’re going to find you a great candidate, but I’d rather not be a candidate myself.
”But as we went through the process in terms of talking about my health and my record and my business career and so forth,” Mr. Cheney said, ”we reviewed all those things between the two of us as we went forward and before we made the decision, before he made the decision that he wanted me to be a candidate,” Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Gore’s campaign has seemed genuinely invigorated by the news of Mr. Cheney’s selection. Aides to the vice president were churning out reams of documents about Mr. Cheney’s legislative background literally from the moment Mr. Bush concluded the formal announcement of Mr. Cheney’s selections.
Many details of what is arguably the most important political decision Mr. Bush has made in his presidential campaign to date may never be known. The lack of information has prompted questions among some some Republicans about whether many of the politicians whose names were publicly floated as possible running mates for Mr. Bush were ever in serious contention.
Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania said in an interview that he had told aides on July 5 that he did not want to be considered for the race. Nevertheless, Mr. Bush himself continued to encourage speculation that he was considering Mr. Ridge when he campaigned with the Pennsylvania governor in Pittsburgh a week later.
Similarly, by the time Mr. Bush met with Mr. Pataki on July 14 — an encounter that his aides readily confirmed — Mr. Cheney, who has a history of heart attacks, had completed a medical examination in Washington and reported to Mr. Bush that he had been given a clean bill of health.
Both Mr. Ridge and Mr. Pataki are supporters of abortion rights, unlike Mr. Bush.
Mr. Cheney, who is a staunch opponent of abortion, had been pitching in with the governor’s presidential campaign from the beginning. Last year, he helped Mr. Bush assemble a team of foreign policy advisers.
So perhaps it was natural that in mid-March, after Mr. Bush effectively secured the Republican presidential nomination, he asked Mr. Cheney if he wanted to be considered as a possible running mate. Mr. Cheney said no, but, weeks later, agreed to supervise the search process.
Under his guidance, hundreds of letters were sent to Republican officials to get their advice. At least 11 prospective candidates received questionnaires and requests for documents.
The candidate who had been mentioned as potentially the strongest running mate Mr. Bush could chose, Mr. Powell, explicitly told Mr. Bush that he did not want the job. He did so during a private moment with the governor on May 25, when Mr. Bush held a ceremony here pledging support for Mr. Powell’s national youth-mentoring program, an aide to Mr. Powell said this week. Mr. Bush and his senior advisers never raised the subject with Mr. Powell again, the aide said.
Still there was no hint yet that Mr. Cheney’s professed reluctance to consider the job was softening, Mr. Bush’s advisers said.
But on June 27 — just six days before Mr. Cheney visited Mr. Bush’s ranch and indicated a possible willingness to run for the post — his name popped up at a gathering of former members of his father’s presidential administration at the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Me. Those present included President Bush; his former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft; and his former director of presidential personnel, Chase Untermeyer.
Mr. Untermeyer recalled that as these men and others sat around a table on the back porch, President Bush asked in a lighthearted manner who they thought should be his son’s vice-presidential pick.
”It was almost in the sense of a parlor game, as if he were asking, ‘Who do you think will win the Masters?’,” Mr. Untermeyer said in one of two telephone interviews this week. He said the name that came up most often was Mr. Ridge’s.
At some point, Mr. Untermeyer said, someone brought up Mr. Cheney’s name, and someone else said he was not interested. According to Mr. Untermeyer, Mr. Scowcroft then said that Mr. Cheney had recently indicated to him that he might be willing to take the job after all.
”My impression was that President Bush was very interested to hear that, and took it aboard as if it was an important fact to know,” Mr. Untermeyer said.
But Mr. Scowcroft and President Bush both made telephone calls to a reporter today to dispute the accuracy of that account. Mr. Scowcroft said that before the Kennebunkport meeting, he had run into Mr. Cheney and teased him about being the perfect vice-presidential prospect. Mr. Scowcroft said that he merely shared that story with President Bush.
President Bush said that he did not press the idea of Mr. Cheney on his son.
”Am I high on Cheney?,” the former president said. ”Absolutely. Was I high on others? Absolutely. Did I talk to George when he called to go over stuff? Absolutely.”
Less then a week later, the governor revisited Mr. Cheney’s initial objections with him at the ranch, and Mr. Cheney began to budge.
On July 11, Ms. Hughes said, he got his medical examination. On July 15 he and Mr. Bush informed Mr. Bush’s senior advisers that he was in the running, and his vetting began, according to Ms. Hughes.
Just 10 days later, the job was his.
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