WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate John Kerry (search) launched into damage control Thursday afternoon after angering Vice President Cheney (search) and his family and alienating some voters by mentioning that Cheney's daughter, Mary, is gay.
“I love my daughters. They love their daughter. I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with this issue,” Kerry said in a statement released from the campaign trail in Las Vegas. Kerry was there to speak to the AARP, the nation's largest organization for seniors. First lady Laura Bush had addressed the crowd earlier.
But the remarks may have come too late for the vice president and second lady Lynne Cheney (search). Cheney told supporters at a rally in Fort Myers, Fla., that the Massachusetts senator stepped over the line.
"You saw a man who will do and say anything to get elected, and I am not just speaking as a father here, although I am a pretty angry father," Cheney said.
Kerry caused a stir on Wednesday night at the third and last presidential debate when he referred to Mary Cheney (search), an official in the Bush-Cheney campaign, while answering a question from moderator Bob Schieffer, who asked whether homosexuality is a choice.
"We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was. She's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not a choice."
It was the second time Mary Cheney's sexuality had come up during the debates. In the vice presidential debate last week, Democratic Sen. John Edwards also brought up the vice president's daughter.
"I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter. I think they love her very much. And you can't have anything but respect for the fact that they're willing to talk about the fact that they have a gay daughter, the fact that they embrace her. It's a wonderful thing," Edwards said.
Asked his response to Edwards' remarks on that, Cheney answered only by saying: "Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much."
At the debate, Cheney declined to say anything more about the issue of gay marriage after Edwards' remarks. The vice president had responded earlier that the president's policy is to support a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, and he supports the president, though his personal opinion is much closer to Kerry's position.
"Traditionally, that's been an issue for the states. States have regulated marriage, if you will. That would be my preference," he said at the debate.
But in a post-debate appearance Wednesday night, Lynne Cheney could no longer hold her silence about the repeated mention of her daughter's sexuality.
"Now, you know, I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more and now the only thing I could conclude: This is not a good man," she told a crowd of 800 debate-watchers in a Pittsburgh suburb. "Of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick."
GOP pollster Ed Goeas reported that the undecided focus group he surveyed during the debate on Wednesday night had a very negative reaction to Kerry after he brought up the vice president's daughter, even though they thought he had been doing well up until that point.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was traveling with Bush on Thursday, said he found Kerry's remarks "certainly inappropriate," but could not say Kerry intended to imply anything negative.
Nonetheless, Kerry Campaign Manager Mary Beth Cahill told FOX News on Wednesday night that Mary Cheney's orientation is "fair game."
"She seems to be very proud and open about her sexuality, her parents seem to be very proud of her," Cahill said. "It comes up, there are a lot of questions here about gay marriage, and she is someone who is a major figure in the campaign. I think it's fair game and I think she has been treated very respectfully."
On Thursday, however, Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, appeared to be playing off her own chart. Rather than applauding the Cheney family for supporting their daughter, she said that Mrs. Cheney's reaction may suggest that the second lady is ashamed of her daughter.
"She's overreacted to this and treated it as if it's shameful to have this discussion. I think that's a very sad state of affairs. ... I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences. ... It makes me really sad that that's Lynne's response," Mrs. Edwards told ABC News Radio.
Bush-Cheney Campaign Communications Director Nicolle Devenish told FOX News that Kerry's intentions could not have been made more clear on Wednesday night.
"Mary Beth Cahill revealed a campaign strategy last night to Chris Wallace, that Mary Cheney is fair game. [Kerry's new statement] is complete double-speak. He's just trying to clean up a mess," she said.
In the debate on Wednesday night, Bush said he did not know whether homosexuality is a choice, and while he supports allowing consenting adults to "live the way they want to live," he worries that "activist judges" are trying to define marriage in a way that changes the basic view of "marriage as an institution, between a man and a woman."
Kerry agreed that marriage is the union of man and woman, but thinks the decision to sanction same-sex marriages should be left up to states.
In an interview in the Oct. 26 issue of the gay magazine The Advocate, Kerry said gay Americans should support his candidacy because he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will fight for equality and a fair interpretation of the equal protection clause and due process. He said he pays a political price for opposing attempts at "gay bashing" in the Senate.
"The difference between me and George Bush will be the difference to gay and lesbian couples and individuals across this country — whether rights are afforded them or whether or not they are discriminated against," Kerry said. He added, "If people take a walk on those things, life's going to be worse."
FOX News' Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.