WASHINGTON – Less than two weeks before the election, Vice President Dick Cheney is scrambling for 11th-hour campaign contributions that could help Republicans protect their fragile hold on the House.
Cheney has been the White House road warrior this year, hauling in more than $22 million for Republicans in 74 campaign appearances. He outpaced President Bush, who logged 66 events before closing out his fund raising last week and shifting to a pure get-out-the-vote mode.
The vice president hits the trail again Thursday, collecting campaign cash in Georgia and Florida, and he may continue beyond that, his office says.
Almost all of Cheney's appearances, in 38 states plus the District of Columbia, have been on behalf of candidates for the House, where the GOP holds a thin advantage. A shift of seven seats would throw the chamber to Democrats.
This year's aggressive travel itinerary came at a time when the White House began planning for war against Iraq — a process in which Cheney is instrumental.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said the vice president simply takes the job with him aboard Air Force Two; each day, no matter where he is, starts with his intelligence briefing. "The great thing about being on the road is that because of modern technology, he's still able to stay in touch with the White House and the Cabinet,'' Millerwise said. "He's a former congressman, and he realizes that elections are part of the job.''
Between them, Bush and Cheney have raised more than $163 million. That does not include the 16 fund-raisers that Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney will have headlined by Election Day.
It is difficult to gauge whether Cheney has set records in his cash campaign. Government agencies, watchdog groups and academic experts said Tuesday they don't track such figures, and neither one-time aides to former Vice President Al Gore nor the Democratic National Committee had them, either.
But some experts said they believe the vice president's effort is unprecedented.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, said Cheney's fund-raising take is probably a record.
"Cheney is not only the most influential vice president ever, he may be the most politically potent vice president ever, and that includes the campaign trail,'' Sabato said. "It fits in completely with the Bush pattern, which is to push fund raising to the max. There's never been a White House team that raised so much money for so many party candidates in a single year.''
Steve Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog group, said there was little doubt that Bush and Cheney have set records in their combined efforts.
"Bush and Cheney have clearly embraced the role of chief fund-raisers for their party, much the way Clinton and Gore did,'' Weiss said. Clinton raised $50 million in the first midterm election of his presidency.
"What this has really done is cemented the role of the president and the vice president as not only the party leaders, but fund-raisers in chief,'' Weiss said.
Joel K. Goldstein, a professor at St. Louis University Law School and a scholar on the vice presidency, said Cheney was following in the footsteps of his predecessor by playing the role of the aggressive party man. Raising money has become part of the job, like representing the country at funerals, and if Cheney is racking up bigger numbers, it is because campaigns have grown more expensive, he said.
"It would be inconceivable not to do what Cheney's been doing,'' Goldstein said. "Being sort of political spokesman and party worker is a relatively conventional role for vice presidents during midterm campaigns, and it has been at least since the Nixon vice presidency.''
Gore was tarnished by his image as an insatiable fund-raiser, but no such taint has touched Cheney, Goldstein said.
Gore's appearance at an illegal fund-raising event at a Buddhist temple near Los Angeles and his role as host of fund-raising "coffees'' at the White House became symbols of political excess, he said. By contrast, no one has accused Cheney of fund-raising improprieties, though Democrats have charged the Bush White House is billing taxpayers inappropriately for its political travels. The White House denies that.