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Vice President Dick Cheney came to Minneapolis Monday to campaign, and raise money, for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty.
About 500 people paid $500 each to eat chicken piccata and hear the vice president at the Minneapolis Hilton. Cheney spends most of his campaign time stumping for Congressional candidates, but told the crowd the Bush administration backs Pawlenty for governor.
"This governor's race is important to the president and to me, because we respect this man and his record," Cheney says. "He's ready to lead Minnesota. He's a strong messenger for the vision we share as Republicans - a vision of freedom and security for the American people."
Cheney says Pawlenty, like President Bush, understands the need to control government spending.
But Cheney spent most of his time talking about national and international policy. Cheney says the U.S. will win the war on terrorism. And as the Bush administration considers an invasion of Iraq, Cheney said the U.S. won't look the other way when nations develop weapons of mass destruction.
"In the case of Iraq, Saddam Hussein is clearly pursuing these deadly capabilities, and he has already shown a willingness to use them, against the Iranians and against his own people," he says.
Cheney says the U.S. won't live at the mercy of terrorists or terror regimes.
Cheney made no mention of the SEC probe against Halliburton, the energy company he used to run, or the lawsuit alleging Cheney and other company executives artificially boosted profits. But union members gathered outside the Hilton were eager to draw attention to the alleged fraudulent accounting.
As many as 3,000 postal workers attending a national convention at the Minneapolis convention center protested Cheney's visit. William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, says labor has to take on "corporate crooks." He says the union couldn't ignore the Cheney visit down the street.
"And it's rare that we get a public appearance of him anymore. He stays in hiding most of the time, but he was here to visit with his cronies - $500 a plate dinner," Burris says. "We wanted to welcome him to the city of Minneapolis with voters, with people, working people, labor union people and get the message across that we're not for sale."
Pawlenty defended Cheney, saying the vice president hasn't been proven guilty of corporate wrongdoing.
"Based on what I know about the situation, it is not clear at a minimum that he's done anything wrong," Pawlenty says. "This is a very strong, gifted leader for our country. His record reflects that, and I don't think he should be discounted or criticized unless and until there's proof that he did something wrong."
DFL party officials also attacked the Cheney visit as an elaborate payoff for Pawlenty's decision to run for governor instead of U.S Senate. Pawlenty says the two aren't related, but acknowledged Cheney was instrumental in in his decision.
Cheney called Pawlenty last year and encouraged him to stay out of the Senate race and run for governor. The White House backs former St. Paul mayor Norm Coleman for Senate. Pawlenty was less than pleased with the White House intervention at the time, but now says it was the best thing that could have happened.
"Now, instead of commuting back and forth to Washington with two young children and being one of 100 senators, I have a chance to stay in my home state that I love, be with my family, and pursue an opportunity for public service that I wanted most," Pawlenty says. "So all I have to say about that is a big thank-you to the vice president, because it has been a wonderful turn of events."
Cheney didn't mention the phone call, but Pawlenty says he jokingly offered to buy the vice president a cell phone.
Pawlenty says he thinks the governor's race can be won this year with as little as 35 percent of the vote. Pawlenty is expected to face DFL'er Roger Moe, Independence Party candidate Tim Penny and the Green Party's Ken Pentel in November.More from MPR