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Cheney on a Roll With Kerry Tough Talk

Vice President Dick Cheney (search) joined President Bush in a sharp challenge of Sen. John Kerry's (search) fitness to serve as commander in chief on Wednesday, still basking in GOP supporters' cheers for his debate performance.

Try as they might, "John Kerry and John Edwards (search) 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 backers.

Cheney got a raucous, standing ovation at a civic center here when his wife Lynne asked the crowd, "How did you like that debate last night?"

With Cheney showing a slight grin, she ticked off her favorite moments, each generating applause, including what she said was one of her favorites: Cheney's statement that the debate was the first time he had met Sen. Edwards, the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

Cheney's claim wasn't true. The two had met at least three times: at a prayer breakfast in February 2001 in which the vice president thanked Edwards by name; in April 2001 during a taping of NBC's "Meet the Press," and on Jan. 8, 2003, when Edwards accompanied Elizabeth Dole to her swearing-in by Cheney.

Nevertheless, Lynne Cheney (search) poked fun at the Democrats' criticism of her husband's claim, which he made as a way of contending Edwards had a spotty Senate attendance record.

"It's a really good thing to go to prayer breakfasts. But don't you think the senator ought to go to the Senate once in a while?" Mrs. Cheney asked.

Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack said Wednesday that the vice president still had no recollection of ever having met Edwards before Tuesday night.

The Kerry campaign said that was remarkable.

Earlier in the day, Bush said in a speech in Wilkes Barre, Pa., that Kerry had "a strategy of retreat" for Iraq and an economic program that would imperil America at home.

During a question and answer period, one man asked Cheney, "How's your health?"

"Well, it's been good," said Cheney, who has suffered four heart attacks, although none as vice president. "I've been a great beneficiary of the wonders of modern medicine."

A woman asked him if there were any plans to change military strategies to put fewer U.S. troops directly in harm's way. "People don't like to see soldiers on the streets being shot at," she said.

He said efforts were under way in the Pentagon to restructure and reorganize the military. But he suggested that, for now, U.S. troops would have to remain on the ground in Iraq.

"The best we can do to honor those who have fallen is to complete the mission," he said.

Later, Cheney addressed small business owners at a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership in Gainesville, Fla. He dodged a question on whether the administration could support a federal sales tax.

"I'm not prepared today to advocate any one particular approach," Cheney said. "What we need to do is sit down. You'll have to do it on a bipartisan basis. There are a lot of ideas out there that need to be considered."

Several months ago, Bush said that a national sales tax should be seriously considered — but his aides quickly backed away from the idea after it drew criticism from both Democrats and some Republicans.