Rochster, Minn. — The vice president spoke to almost 700 supporters gathered inside a barn on the Olmsted County Fairgrounds. Bales of hay flanked his podium and local dignitaries lined the risers set up on the stage.
With just three weeks to go before what's expected to be a very close election, Cheney was able to joke about it, using a line that's drawn laughter and applause all along the campaign trail.
"People tell me Senator Edwards got picked for his charms, his good looks, his sex appeal and his great hair. I said, 'How do you think I got the job?'"
Aside from the occasional joke, Cheney spent most of his time talking about national defense. It's an issue the president has consistently scored well on in polls with would-be voters.
"The clearest, most important difference in this campaign is simple to state. President Bush understands the war on terror and has a strategy for winning it. Senator Kerry does not," Cheney said.
Vice President Cheney has really promised us a war without end. I don't want that kind of future. I want a future that's filled with hope, and I think it's time for a change.
While Cheney touched on domestic matters like the economy, abortion and the court system, he consistently came back to homeland security.
He carefully sidestepped the issue of the Duelfer report, which was released last week amid a storm of controversy. The report's author found no evidence Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction during the lead-up to the U.S. invasion.
But Cheney said the war on terror is larger than Iraq.
"Today we face an enemy every bit as determined to destroy, as were the Axis powers in World War II. This is not an enemy we can reason with, or negotiate with or appease," said Cheney. "This is -- to put it simply -- an enemy we must destroy, and with George Bush as our commander and chief that is exactly what we are doing."
As Cheney wrapped up his remarks, hundreds of balloons dropped from the ceiling. Faye Eggenberger made her way to the door, holding a hand-lettered sign. Eggenberger lives in Rochester and says she's a former Democrat who's now found a home in the Republican Party. She said she liked what she heard.
"I have two sons in the military, and I need them to be protected. I'm pro-life and I don't want same-sex marriage. There are a lot of issues that are just too extreme, that I'm not a Democrat anymore," Eggenberger said.
Eggenberger is not alone in believing that national politics have become increasingly polarized. Heidi Granstrom is a long-time Democrat who also thinks that's the case. She's been working for the John Kerry campaign since before the Iowa caucuses.
Granstrom attended a DFL counter-rally with her two young daughters, hours before Cheney arrived in Rochester. The rally was organized in part to allow first responders to criticize the Bush administration for not following through with promised financial support after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Rochester has a reputation for being a Republican stronghold, but Granstrom said that's not true anymore.
"I think the demographics are changing, and I also think that a lot of Republicans feel the Republican Party has moved away from them and no longer stands for the common good," said Granstrom.
Granstrom said she's ready to try her luck with a national security policy devised by John Kerry. She says the war in Iraq has become a quagmire, and she worries what it will mean for her school-aged children.
"Vice President Cheney has really promised us a war without end. I don't want that kind of future. I want a future that's filled with hope, and I think it's time for a change," she said.
Democrats will hold a debate night party Wednesday night at a downtown hotel. Minnesota's Democratic Sen. Mark Dayton is expected to attend, and Elizabeth Edwards will also speak to partygoers by phone.