WHEELING, W.Va. – Firing back in the debate over American values, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) used his first campaign bus tour Saturday to label Democrat John Kerry (search) "on the left, out of the mainstream and out of touch with the conservative values of the heartland."
Kerry in recent days has been invoking values with increasing frequency, promising a crowd in Minnesota on Friday, for example, that he would "honor the values that built our country."
Cheney, serving notice that the Bush campaign won't cede what has traditionally been a favorite Republican issue, told a cheering crowd at Wheeling Park High School: "Sometimes I think John Kerry develops amnesia out on the campaign trail. His latest thing is to tell audiences that he holds conservative values.
"Did he forget his voting record, a voting record that makes him the most liberal member of the United States Senate?" Cheney asked. He cited Kerry's votes against a ban on flag-burning, tax relief and banning what opponents call partial birth abortion.
"On these and a whole host of values, John Kerry's votes and statements over the decades that he's been in office put him on the left, out of the mainstream and out of touch with the conservative values of the heartland."
The Kerry campaign was quick to respond. "Considering that Dick Cheney got five deferments from the military to avoid combat, he's the last person who should be attacking Vietnam veteran John Kerry's commitment to the flag," said spokesman Phil Singer. He added that if the Bush campaign chooses to use "shrill speeches, they're going to do so at their own peril."
Cheney declared it "a great day for a bus ride" at the outset of a two-day tour in a red, white and blue bus through Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, three battleground states (search) in the electoral politics of 2004. In fact, it was a day of dueling bus tours as Kerry's campaign staked out the highways of Wisconsin and Iowa.
First stop for Cheney: the sweltering banquet hall of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Parma, Ohio, where hundreds of GOP faithful bellowed cheers for the Republican ticket and plentiful boos at the mere mention of Kerry.
"This is the good part of the speech," Cheney grinned, as he launched into a scathing critique of Kerry's economic policies.
"His big idea for cheering up the country? Raise your taxes," Cheney declared.
The vice president brought along his wife, Lynne, daughter Mary and 10-year-old granddaughter Kate for some holiday-weekend retail politicking.
Mary and Kate, along with various Cheney staffers, sported patriotic tattoos for the occasion — the washable kind, of course — but there was no evidence Cheney opted to join in the body art.
Stopping for a quick tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, it wasn't long before Kate was sporting a maroon Washington Redskins T-shirt and checking out her hometown team's hall-of-famers with her grandfather.
Yolana Wilson, visiting the Hall of Fame from Indianapolis with her husband and three children, was startled to encounter the vice president as a fellow tourist.
"Dick Cheney!" she declared. "They usually have him secured in some underground bunker, don't they?"
Wilson said it was good for the vice president to get out around the country, but said she hadn't made up her mind about whom she will be voting for in November.
Cheney hopped out of the bus in Lisbon, Ohio, population near 3,050, to thank workers at the Columbiana County Republican Party headquarters.
In Parma, he told about 1,000 people gathered under the church's dome that it was going to be a tough race. Ohio voted for President Bush in 2000, and "We're counting on you again in 2004," Cheney said.
Seventy-year-old Florence Orris, among those at the Parma rally, said she's backing Bush because of his integrity and strong faith. She lamented the "ugly" tone of the campaign but nonetheless said she didn't blame Cheney for blurting out an expletive during an angry encounter with Sen. Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor last month.
"I'm almost getting to that point with my Democratic friends," she declared. "One of them told me this week she hates President Bush."