Hitting the stump in New Jersey for the first time this election year, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) touted the Bush administration's accomplishments and bashed Democratic candidate John Kerry (search) on Monday, suggesting he is soft on terror.
Appearing at a $1,000-a-head Bush-Cheney fund-raiser, Cheney recounted the administration's successes in Afghanistan and Iraq and reminded an estimated 700 GOP faithful that Kerry opposed the United States-led coalition that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and voted against weapons systems that have helped U.S. forces in those battles.
"When it comes to Iraq, this much is clear: Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today," said Cheney, flanked by wife, Lynne, and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman (search) at the podium during his 18-minute address.
He made no mention of former Bush counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's assertions that the administration took the risk of an Al Qaeda attack lightly in the months leading up to Sept. 11, 2001 while instead focusing on Hussein.
Instead, he defended Bush's decision to invade Iraq last year, despite widespread opposition in the international community, saying the U.S. "will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our nation."
Cheney also took aim at Kerry's domestic agenda, criticizing him for vowing to repeal Bush tax cuts within 100 days of taking office if elected.
"He voted 350 times in the U.S. Senate for higher taxes. For the sake of growth and long-term job creation, we need to do exactly the opposite from Senator Kerry's proposal. We should make the Bush tax cuts permanent."
Guests noshed on crudit'es, cheese and crackers and a variety of pasta dishes as they listened to Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A" play on loudspeakers in the ballroom before Cheney's arrival.
About $400,000 was expected to be raised at the event, according to Bush-Cheney campaign officials.
Cheney got a chilly reception outside the hall, between a stiff spring wind and a vocal band of protesters who camped across the street from the Chateau Grand. About two dozen people chanted "Money for Medicare, not for war" and carried signs calling Cheney and President George Bush "lying profiteers."
One protester dressed as Cheney, donning a rubber mask and black suit, held fistfuls of fake bills.
Inside, the atmosphere was much warmer. Among those on hand was Herta Tully, 85, of Seaside Heights.
Tully, a Republican Party regular since 1960, came as a guest to the fund-raiser and said she supported Bush, although she had some misgivings.
"He's a good president, but I'm very unhappy with the war.
"A lot of people are very unhappy, especially if you've got somebody in the war."
Whitman, Bush's former EPA chief, told the GOP faithful that New Jersey would be a critical state in deciding the outcome of the November election.