Cheneys to Kerry:
Now it's personal
Veep vexed over Dem's lesbian 'trick'
BY THOMAS M. DEFRANK
in Tempe, Ariz.,
and CELESTE KATZ
in New York
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
Mary Cheney (r.), talking with Laura Bush chief of staff Andi Wall in 2000, is in middle of political storm after Sen. John Kerry referred to veep daughter’s sexuality in final debate.
Sen. John Kerry's remark about Vice President Cheney's lesbian daughter during the final debate has erupted into a major political storm, with the veep calling himself an "angry father" and Kerry trying to back away from the furor.
"You saw a man who will do and say anything to get elected," the vice president said yesterday at a Florida rally. "And I am not just speaking as a father here, although I am a pretty Angry father."
When asked Wednesday night whether they thought homosexuality was a choice, President Bush said he was unsure but Kerry said: "We're all God's children. 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."
Mary Cheney, 35, is openly gay and runs operations in the vice president's campaign office.
At a post-debate event Wednesday night, the veep's wife, Lynne Cheney, spoke cuttingly about Kerry's reference: "This is not a good man," she said. "What a cheap and tawdry political trick."
While Mary Cheney declined comment and Kerry late yesterday tried to make nice, the wife of vice presidential hopeful John Edwards hardly played peacemaker, accusing Lynne Cheney of being 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," Elizabeth Edwards told ABC News Radio yesterday. And then she poured some more salt: "I think that it indicates a certain degree of shame with respect to her daughter's sexual preferences."
Cheney's camp had no immediate response to Edwards but Kerry tried to ease the tension by issuing what amounted to a clarification - but not an apology.
"I love my daughters. They love their daughter," the Democrat said. "I was trying to say something positive about the way strong families deal with the issue."
The Republicans see it differently. After all, John Edwards raised it unilaterally in the vice presidential debate, much to the irritation of the veep, who thanked Edwards for his remarks but was, in fact, ripped about them.
"People understand the invasion of privacy of a family," a top Bush campaign adviser said. "They are going to pay a price for this."
There's little argument that the gambit of making Mary Cheney's lifestyle a high-visibility issue is what the adviser calls "obviously highly calculated."
"Some cutesy person over there like [Kerry senior strategist Robert] Shrum must have got the stupid idea that they can undercut our base because Cheney has a gay daughter," the adviser said.
The theory is that homophobes in Bush's base may recoil after learning the veep they adore has a homosexual daughter.
It also, the source agreed, lends an aura of hypocrisy to Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - an amendment Cheney personally opposes.
Camp Kerry insiders who participated in the senator's debate prep insist their man's comments were "off-the-cuff" and not part of their debate plan. But one aide said of the GOP response: "This issue makes them uncomfortable, because they use the issue politically."