Cheney Speech a Makeover Opportunity

Even delegates who adore Dick Cheney (search) hope he will deliver not just a speech, but a makeover.

The vice president, a lightning rod for Bush opponents, has a new chance Wednesday night to win friends, influence voters and give the country a fresh look at the man who has spent the past three and a half years shaping the administration from behind the scenes.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for America to rediscover Dick Cheney," said Bill Thomas, a Republican convention delegate from Richmond, Va. "I think they'll come to appreciate the many reasons President Bush picked him in the first place."

Delegates appear near-universal in their respect for the man, citing his broad experience and steady hand, saying they are confident he could do the top job if something happened to Bush. But some allow that undecided voters in their states feel differently.

"Halliburton," said delegate Dennis Tooley of Redmond, Ore., citing the oil services company that Cheney once headed. "That continually comes up from the detractors."

"A lot of people are questioning his future, his remaining on the ticket," said accountant Tom Reynolds, a delegate from Ridgefield, Conn. That will change after Cheney addresses the convention, he said. "Once he gets up there, his ratings will go up. He's an excellent speaker and I think he'll electrify this campaign."

Polls show voters prefer Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards to Cheney by a wide margin, though history shows few choose a president based on his No. 2.

"They're not going to vote for Cheney, they're going to vote for Bush," said Fay Williamson of Midlothian, Va.

By all accounts, Cheney has exercised great influence over administration policy, on both domestic and foreign issues. But he delivers the advice in private, to the president. Years ago, Cheney considered and rejected the idea of running for president himself, and friends say that decision sets him free of the pressure to be popular.

Likewise, Cheney resists talking about himself on the campaign trail and in interviews. In his standard stump speech, he typically mentions himself only in self-effacing jokes, like one comparing Edwards' well-coifed hair to his own balding pate.

His speech Wednesday is likely to hit the themes he's voiced on the road.

"The vice president's going to say a personal tribute to President Bush and the leadership he's shown," said spokeswoman Anne Womack, previewing the speech. "He'll also draw a contrast between the strong and steady leadership President Bush has shown ... and Senator Kerry's lack of vision or leadership during his 20 years in the Senate."

In the two months ahead, Cheney is expected to continue hammering at Kerry, a role traditionally assigned to vice presidents. That might mean he never emerges from his image as a somewhat brooding figure.

"That's the role of vice president. The role of vice president is to take that heat so they don't tear down the president," said Bill Spadea, a GOP candidate for the New Jersey statehouse. "He's taking one for the team."

Unlike Edwards, Cheney doesn't appear to thrive in the limelight, said Timothy Walch, director of the Hoover Presidential Library and an expert on the vice presidency.

"I think standing in front of that audience giving a speech is about as appealing to him as dental surgery," Walch said. "This is one of those times when the whole nation will be focused on him. The problem would be it almost requires him to be passionate, to have a dollop of Edwards in his talk. That's tough for him."

No matter, say Republicans who want Cheney to have this new chance with voters who have seen little of him. To know him is to respect them, they say, and this, along with an anticipated vice presidential debate, is one of the best opportunities.

"The vice president rarely gets an opportunity to be heard in prime time," said Guy Gregg of Long Valley, N.J. "This is the day."