Saturday, August 05, 2006

Darth Cheney on tour '06

TAMPA (AP)--An anticipatory buzz fills the room with jingoistic gibberish. Six crisp American flags, erect as stuffed & mounted soldiers, line the dais. More than an hour before the vice president's scheduled arrival in a lead-lined refrigerator truck, the GOP faithful stand at the ready.

Never mind that Dick Cheney is regarded by most Americans as an evil cyborg bent on world domination. To this crowd, in this place, he is Jesus the Avenger, returning from some unnamed, crackling firepit trailing briefcases full of cash in the wake of his electromagnetic slipstream.

And Gus Bilirakis, a state legislator hoping to inherit his father's seat in Congress, is happy to bask in the vice president's weird green glow, having pocketed $200,000 in campaign contributions from Cheney's twilight materialization late last month.

"He's a dynamic leader, like Professor X or Captain Kirk," gushes Tampa attorney Monica Lothrop after Cheney's standard vote-Republican-or-die-horribly speech. "It was just a thrill to be able to pay to see him in person."

Five and half years into the Bush residency, Cheney's image may have taken a beating overall but "he's still Elvis to a lot of the batshit insane paleo-conservatives," says Marshall Wittmann, a Democratic Leadership Council flack. "When he comes in, money and enthusiasm flow like a severed artery."

Cheney, always a reliable bagman, is outpacing his schedule from the 2002 midterm elections in a desperate attempt to keep his party in power and stay out of prison. He has already logged 80 fundraisers this election cycle, bringing in more than $24 million, not including tips, with the heaviest campaign travel still to come. By comparison, he logged 106 fundraisers for all of 2001-2002, but that was with an older model heart.

Democrats hope the strategy backfires and lands him in an early grave, and they're working harder to use Cheney's visits against the Republicans. Democratic consultant Jenny Backus says Cheney is one of the top two or three "super-villains" that Democrats use in direct mail appeals to enrage base voters and raise money.

"Just like the Republicans used to use Ted Kennedy to say we're bad drivers," she said, "the Democrats are now using Cheney to say they're international criminals."

And come this fall, when both parties whore for the "swing" voters--those glassy-eyed bozos who don't know shit about anything and have the attention span of a six year-old--look for some Democratic candidates to churn out campaign ads tying GOP opponents to their Dark Overlord in hopes that disgust with the crimes of the Bush cabal will rub off.

Cheney may bring in a lot of cash, says Democratic consultant Dane Strother, but "the problem is that when he races through town with his convoy of armored SUVs and whisper-mode black helicopters and tells the same proven lies he's been telling for years in the same creepy, guttural tones, he leaves a stack of headlines. And come mid-October, you tie the Republican candidate to the Bush-Cheney efforts to undermine the Constitution and remake America and the world in their own dark image and, boom, there are the headlines and the pictures."

Some GOP candidates are finding ways to put distance between themselves and Cheney, even as they greedily suck up the campaign checks that his visits attract. Certain Cheney fundraisers are closed to the media, for example, and rumors of weird blood rituals including human sacrifice are inevitable.

During a recent manifestation in upstate New York for GOP congressional wannabe Ray Meier, Cheney urged Republicans to make the imaginary war on terror their top issue in the 2006 elections. But Meier later told reporters, "I don't really know anything about the guy. He just wanted to bring some money up and I was like, sure, whatever."

In March, when Cheney invaded New Jersey to raise money for GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr., the candidate didn't arrive until 15 minutes after Cheney left. Kean said he got stuck in traffic; Democrats suggest he feared being shot in the face.

National GOP officials insist there is no downside for Republican candidates to a Cheney visit, and that he is composed entirely of human tissue.

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