WASHINGTON – Despite rampant whisperings along the Beltway, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) says he's not dropping out of the presidential race.
President Bush has been "very clear he doesn't want to break up the team," Cheney said in a C-SPAN interview that will be broadcast Sunday.
There has been persistent speculation that Cheney would step down for political or health reasons.
"He's made his decision," Cheney said of Bush. "I've made mine. I suppose right now, because we're in the run up to the convention, people don't have much to talk about so you get speculation on that. It's normal. When we get to the convention, I think that'll put an end to it."
A front-page article in The New York Times published Thursday reports a rumor that Cheney's prescription-drug addicted doctor was dismissed last week so that a new one could be appointed who would diagnose the vice president — who has a history of heart trouble — as unfit to run again. That would allow Bush to select a more popular Republican for the ticket.
That theory has been advanced privately by prominent Democrats, including members of Congress, the Times reported.
"I don't know where they get all these conspiracy theories," Matthew Dowd, Bush campaign's chief strategist, told the Times. "It's inside-the-Beltway coffee talk, is all it is."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan was asked by reporters Thursday to respond "yes or no" as to whether Bush was "considering" replacing Cheney.
After first saying the question had long ago been "asked and answered," McClellan pointed out that the president had announced even before he was running for re-election that if he did, it would be with Cheney. McClellan attributed such talk to the "campaign season," and finally, after much prodding and catcalling, declared: "Yes, he will be on the ticket." He added: "You all amaze me sometimes! Playing into this kind of inside-the-Beltway speculation."
Cheney also dismissed any such reports.
"If I thought that were appropriate I certainly would, but he has made it very clear he wants me to run again," he told C-SPAN. "The way I got here in the first place is that he persuaded me four years ago that I was the man he wanted in that post, not just as a candidate but as somebody to be a part of the governing team. He has been very clear he doesn't want to break up the team."
While Cheney is strongly supported by the GOP's conservative base, some Republicans have quietly suggested that he should be replaced. He has had four heart attacks and his approval ratings have plummeted amid persistent questions about his role in promoting the Iraq war and in handling the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Among replacement possibilities: Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search).
"He just adds nothing to the re-election ticket and, in fact, I think subtracts quite a bit from that re-election ticket," Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told FOX News on Thursday. "If President Bush wants to shake up the current situation, which I think at best has him in a tie, more likely has him behind, he ought to think about replacing Vice President Cheney with someone else who can bring a key state."
Sabato said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search), for example, could help Bush win Pennsylvania and Giuliani could help him win New York.
"Obviously he likes Dick Cheney, he wants to keep him, but Cheney isn't doing him any good politically," Sabato added.
Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato of New York, the only prominent Republican to speak publicly about replacing Cheney, said, "I believe the president can guarantee his essential re-election by looking to several other notable individuals who would add a great dimension to his ticket as a running mate."
But McCain scoffed at the idea. "I think the day that President Bush drops Vice President Cheney will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Arizona," he said. "I see no scenario in which the president would replace Dick Cheney."
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) said Thursday that if Bush replaces Cheney, it will be the latest in a string of broken promises.
"It will mean that the president's word once again doesn't mean anything, that he himself is the flip-flopper of all flip-floppers because he's been touting how important Dick Cheney is," Kerry told broadcaster Don Imus. "The fact is that George Bush would be declaring an act of desperation, a sudden move that goes contrary to everything he's said."
Cheney's wife, Lynne, was emphatic that he would accept the vice presidential nomination again at the GOP convention in New York. "Oh, it'll happen," she told C-SPAN.
FOX News' James Rosen, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.