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Cheney, Edwards offer more of same in VP debate

In Tuesday night’s debate, Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards rehashed many of the same issues raised during the first presidential debate last week.

Last Thursday, President George W. Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry left several messages unclear, according to USF political science professor J. Edwin Benton, and Tuesday night was about clarifying those messages.

“I think (the debate) is important for a lot of reasons, one being that people want to know who’s second in command in case something happens to the president,” Benton said. “It was also important because they were also able to clarify some points that were unclear from Kerry and Bush on Thursday.”

Benton called the debate a draw, unlike Thursday’s debate, which he said was “not so much Kerry winning it, but Bush losing it.”

“I think both did very well. Both of them did better than the presidential candidates did last week,” he said. “I think they did a better job of addressing the issues.”

Benton also said Cheney’s performance was stronger than Bush’s in part because Cheney maintained his composure better than the president.

“I think Cheney just knows how to handle himself better,” Benton said. “He avoids doing what the president did on Thursday, when (the president) ended up looking upset or even angry on camera.

“Cheney was also able to make some points more clearly and articulately than President Bush was.”

Like Thursday’s debate, Iraq dominated much of the conversation, with Edwards and Cheney stretching the findings of U.S. intelligence to their own ends in tangling over Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to al-Qaida.

Edwards said the connection between Saddam and the terrorist network was minimal or nonexistent; Cheney asserted Saddam’s Iraq “had an established relationship with al-Qaida.”

Both statements mask what intelligence sources have said. The contacts were limited and sketchy, mostly Iraqi intelligence agents and al-Qaida operatives, and did not amount to state sponsorship of al-Qaida or any link to the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. intelligence officials have said.

But the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report on flawed Iraqi intelligence did conclude that the CIA reasonably assessed there probably were several contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida throughout the 1990s, although they did not add up to a formal relationship.

The exchange was typical of a night in which each accused the other of mangling facts.

At one point, Edwards attacked Cheney for the administration’s decision to give billions of dollars in new contracts to the vice president’s former company, Halliburton. But congressional auditors recently reviewed those contracts and concluded U.S. officials met legal guidelines in awarding the business without competition — in part because Halliburton was the only company capable of doing some of the work.

Edwards also asserted, “They sent 40,000 American troops into Iraq without the body armor they needed,” a comment that might suggest they had no body armor at all, when in fact they did.

Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said 40,000 troops did not have the brand new, improved armor but “every soldier and Marine on the ground over had body armor.”

Cheney accused Kerry of voting for taxes 98 times. That’s down from the 350 times wrongly claimed by Republicans, but it’s still a stretch. Those 98 votes include times when Kerry voted for lower taxes — but not as low as Republicans wanted. It also included instances when many procedural votes were cast on a single tax increase or package.

In touting the successes in Afghanistan, Cheney boasted 10 million Afghans had registered to vote in coming elections. However, Human Rights Watch, a group monitoring the elections, says voter turnout could be as low as 5 million to 7 million because of concerns about violence, repression by warlords and logistical problems.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.