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Cheney hammers on national security issues in Rosemount; Ventura endorses Kerry
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"The differences between the president and his opponent are sharp as they could be, and the consequences for the country are enormous," VP Cheney said. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a rally in Rosemount Friday, ending an unprecedented week in Minnesota presidential politics. All four candidates on the Republican and Democratic tickets campaigned in the state over the last four days. Cheney attacked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on issues ranging from guns to national security. Also, a former Minnesota governor entered the presidential fray in his usual unconventional way.

Rosemount, Minn. — Cheney told about 1,300 cheering supporters at the Rosemount Community Center that he was happy to be back in Minnesota for the second time in as many weeks.

"From what I see here today, it looks like Minnesota is Bush Cheney country," he said.

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Image Ventura endorses... silently

Cheney launched a litany of attacks on John Kerry. He began by mocking Kerry's duck-hunting trip in Ohio this week, calling Kerry's new camouflage jacket "an October disguise."

"It's part of an effort he's making to hide the fact that he votes against gun owner rights at every turn. But fellow sportsmen, this cover-up isn't going to work, because you and I know that the Second Amendment is more than a photo opportunity," he said.

Kerry says he supports the right to bear arms, but has voted for the assault-weapons ban and background checks at gun shows.

Cheney also criticized Kerry's votes to raise taxes during Kerry's 20-years in the Senate. He saved his strongest attacks for Kerry's positions on national security. He blasted Kerry for voting against an $87 billion spending package for equipment for U.S. troops, a vote Kerry has defended, saying Republicans removed a provision to pay for the $87 billion.

"My friends, the differences between the president and his opponent are as sharp as they can possibly be, and the consequences for the country are enormous. On vital matters of national security, Sen. Kerry offers a record of weakness and a strategy of retreat. President Bush offers a record of steady purpose and resolute action and a strategy for victory."

Cheney said Kerry's views rarely prevail in the Senate, but says it would be a much different matter if Kerry led the nation. Throughout Cheney's speech, supporters began chanting "four more years", and the event ended with confetti, a balloon drop and the feel of a pep rally.

Outside the community center, members of Minnesota ACT, a group working to defeat Bush, held a mock "flu shot lottery". They called the flu shot shortage another example of the Bush administration neglecting the health care concerns of Americans.

Meanwhile, former Gov. Jesse Ventura endorsed Kerry, without saying a word. Ventura attended a news conference with former Maine Gov. Angus King, but refused to speak to reporters. Rather than answer questions directly, he motioned that King could speak for him. King explained why Ventura decided to support Kerry.

"Like millions of Americans, he watched the debates, and during the time of the debates, he saw two things. He saw a president who does not seem to be in touch with reality, and who isn't facing the problems facing the country," King said.

King says Ventura also believes that Kerry had command of the facts.

The bizarre news conference capped a week that's seen more interest in Minnesota's 10 electoral votes than anyone can remember. Political scientist Chris Gilbert of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter says four visits in four days is probably a record for Minnesota, which was a reliably Democratic vote for decades. Minnesota hasn't voted for a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Gilbert says the flurry of activity verifies Minnesota's status as a swing state in the presidential race.

"I think we can have some confidence that the polls are correct in showing us that this is really a dead heat. If it weren't that way, we would see different strategic choices by at least one of the campaigns, the campaign that perhaps perceived it was slipping and felt like it needed to spend its resources elsewhere. But just the opposite is happening," according to Gilbert.

Gilbert says both campaigns are largely focusing on their base of support in the final days of the campaign, as evidenced by their Minnesota stops this week. Kerry and running mate John Edwards campaigned in DFL-leaning Minneapolis and on the Iron Range, while Bush and Cheney stumped in Republican-leaning Rochester and suburban Rosemount.

Cheney returns to the state Monday for an event in Moorhead, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader campaigns in Northfield Tuesday, and it's likely other Minnesota visits will be announced in the last week before the election.

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