Vice President Dick Cheney (search) and Sen. John Edwards (search) hit the campaign trail Wednesday after a night of slugging it out in the 2004 election's only vice-presidential debate in which the two candidates traded pointed and barbed criticism of not only their rival presidential tickets, but also their own professional backgrounds.

On Wednesday, both men headed to Florida, the battleground state that decided the election four years ago with its 25 — this year, 27 — electoral votes. Cheney appeared in Tallahassee while Edwards attended a rally in West Palm Beach.

Their running mates — President Bush (search) and Sen. John Kerry (search) — were taking different approaches Wednesday.

Click here to read Wednesday's edition of's daily campaign digest, Trail Tales.

Kerry was preparing in Englewood, Colo., for the second of three presidential debates, which is to be held Friday night.

Bush was campaigning in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and then Farmington Hills, Mich., where he offered up a scathing rebuke of his Democratic challenger, who he said has "a strategy of defeat" for Iraq and an economic program that would imperil America at home. The Kerry camp said the president was merely attempting a repeat of last Thursday's debate against their candidate, which many people felt Kerry won.

In West Palm Beach, Edwards countered Bush's Wednesday criticism of Kerry, and said the Republican was "completely out of touch with reality" about the Iraq war and the economy.

"He won't acknowledge the mess in Iraq. All you have to do is turn your television on," the North Carolina senator told an audience at the Palm Beach County convention center. And, he added, "they still don't recognize that there's any problem with jobs and the economy" despite rising health care costs and record job losses.

"You can't fix these problems until you recognize there is a problem ...They're in denial. They're in denial about everything."

On the trail Wednesday, Cheney reiterated Bush's Wednesday sentiments, challenging Kerry's fitness to serve as commander in chief.

Try as they might, "John Kerry and John Edwards cannot with tough talk obscure a record that goes back 30 years that had him (Kerry) on the wrong side of virtually every issue that dealt with national security," Cheney told a town-hall-style meeting of supporters in Tallahassee.

Cheney later had lunch aboard Air Force Two with Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Sparring on Iraq, Afghanistan

Just as it did during the presidential debate, Iraq dominated much of the early part of the Cheney-Edwards face-off. But the No. 2s also discussed gay marriage, the economy, health care and education.

Cheney found himself having to defend the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. He said that U.S. military action was "exactly the right thing to do" and, if necessary, the Bush administration would do it again.

"The world is far safer today because Saddam Hussein is in jail, his government is no longer in power," Cheney said. "The effort we mounted with respect to Iraq focused specifically on the possibility that this was the most likely nexus between the terrorists and weapons of mass destruction."

Edwards accused Cheney of misleading American voters.

"Mr. Vice President, you are still not being straight with the American people," Edwards said. "The reality: You and George Bush continue to tell the American people to say things are going well in Iraq ... [but] they see it on their television every single day."

The debate, which was held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, was moderated by Gwen Ifill of PBS.

Bush called Cheney Tuesday night to say the vice president did an "outstanding job" in the debate, White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters Wednesday. Bush said his No. 2 did a good job of contrasting the differences, which the president on Wednesday elaborated on in his own speech. "This is a time for choosing," McClellan said.

Edwards argued that the United States was shouldering 90 percent of the troop burden in Iraq and had spent $200 billion on the war and reconstruction.

Cheney shot back that the United States was providing only 50 percent of the troops, with Iraqi and coalition soldiers making up the rest. He also said the $200 billion figure included cash that hadn't been spent yet.

"It wasn't $200 billion, but you probably weren't there to vote for that," Cheney said, taking a swipe at Edwards, who like Kerry has been criticized by Republicans for missing many Senate votes. "Your facts are just wrong."

Edwards was asked about the "global test" Kerry mentioned last week when he suggested the U.S. work to make its foreign policy more transparent. "What is a global test if it's not a global veto?" Ifill asked.

"It means that Saddam Hussein needed to be confronted," Edwards said. "John Kerry and I have consistently said that. That's why we voted for the resolution. But it also means it needed to be done the right way."

Cheney said Kerry and Edwards lack the credibility to do that.

"You're not credible on Iraq because of the enormous inconsistencies John Kerry and you have cited time after time after time in the political campaign," the vice president said. "There's no indication at all that John Kerry has the conviction to carry through in the War on Terror."

Edwards accused the administration of letting Al Qaeda terror leader Usama bin Laden get away, saying, "[The administration] gave the responsibility of capturing ... Usama bin Laden to Afghan warlords who, just a few weeks before, had been working with Usama bin Laden ... our point in this is not complicated: We were attacked by Al Qaeda and Usama bin Laden."

Cheney said, "we've never let up on Usama bin Laden from Day One," and noted that thousands of Al Qaeda members, and many top leaders, have either been killed or captured.

Edwards accused Cheney of suggesting a connection between the Sept. 11 attacks and Saddam Hussein; Cheney said his challenger was distorting his remarks.

"The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11, but there's clearly an established Iraqi track record with terror," Cheney said.

Pulling Out the Big Guns

As expected, Edwards went after Cheney and his ties to Halliburton, the energy services company that has provided major logistical and backup support to U.S. troops in Iraq.

Edwards said that under Cheney's watch as CEO of Halliburton, the company defied U.S. sanctions against business with Iran. The company is being probed for allegedly bribing foreign officials, Edwards said, adding that Halliburton did not bid on its $7.5 billion contract for Iraq.

Cheney said that the allegations were false and that the Halliburton issue was nothing more than a "smoke screen" by the Kerry-Edwards campaign, which was "repeatedly trying to confuse the voters and raise questions."

Cheney also slammed Edwards' Senate tenure, and said the Halliburton issue was only meant to distract from inconsistencies in his and Kerry's records.

Edwards vowed that if elected, he and Kerry would roll back tax cuts for individuals making over $200,000 a year, keep tax cuts in place for income earners below that level and give more credits for child care, college tuition and similar expenses.

"We can't eliminate the deficit ... we're in too deep a hole, but we can cut it in half," he added.

Cheney said the "Kerry record on taxes is one basically of voting for a series of tax increases."

The vice president said he and Bush, if re-elected, would practice "fiscal restraint" that would cut the deficit by 50 percent over the next five years.

Ifill asked Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, if he believed gay people should be permitted to marry, counter to Bush's support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

"Freedom is for everybody," Cheney said again, but added that he didn't believe government should sanction gay marriage. "Traditionally, that's been an issue for the states. ... That would be my preference."

Kerry and Edwards support the states deciding whether to sanction same-sex marriage and oppose a constitutional amendment.

"I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and so does John Kerry. I also believe there should be partnership benefits [for a committed couple], but we should not use the Constitution to divide this country," Edwards said.

He added that he did not believe that one state should be forced to recognize the marriage of a gay couple sanctioned in another state.

The Bush-Cheney camp also has criticized Edwards for being a trial lawyer, one of a legal breed it says is crippling the country's medical system.

Too much litigation, the Bush campaign says, has caused medical liability insurance to skyrocket, but Democrats have blocked much-needed reform of the litigation system.

Edwards said GOP attacks on trial lawyers didn't have much to do with medical liability, but agreed litigation is clogging the system.

Kerry and Bush planned to meet for two more debates before Election Day. The first of those meetings will be on Friday in St. Louis, Mo., the other Oct. 13 in Tempe, Ariz.