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Bill Schneider: Cheney, Lieberman have specific goals for debate

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A vice presidential debate is a junior varsity match. In 1988, Lloyd Bentsen clearly defeated Dan Quayle in that year's vice presidential debate -- "I knew John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a friend of mine..." But Quayle was the one who got elected, which only proves that people don't vote for vice president.

In this campaign, Joe Lieberman seems to be helping Al Gore more than Dick Cheney is helping George W. Bush. Lieberman helps Gore reach out to the center; Cheney does not. Lieberman helps Gore break his ties to Bill Clinton; Cheney looks like Bush's father's choice. Lieberman makes Gore look more inclusive; two Texas oil men on the ticket does not exactly expand the GOP base.

Vice presidential debates are often more raucous than presidential debates. Vice presidential candidates don't have to worry about looking "presidential" and staying above the fray. They're expected to go on the attack and to defend their bosses. They're surrogates, not contenders.

Joe Lieberman's biggest challenge is to deflect the character charges against Gore. As a man of rectitude, he needs to attest personally to Gore's honesty and integrity, and to make it clear that his own criticism of President Clinton in September 1998 was entirely personal and has no bearing on Gore. In particular, Lieberman will need to defend Gore's commitment to campaign finance reform and explain the lessons learned from the 1996 fund-raising scandal.

Lieberman also needs to do something Gore did not do Tuesday night: defend what Bush called Gore's "fuzzy numbers." Lieberman needs to show that Gore's numbers make sense and Bush's numbers do not add up.

Watch for Lieberman to attack Bush's record on environmental protection in Texas and depict Bush and Cheney as "the big oil ticket," in the pocket of special interests. The central theme of those attacks will be the tax cut -- a huge tax break for Bush, Cheney and "their rich friends and supporters."

Dick Cheney is not a happy warrior. He shows little zest for campaigning and does not connect with voters well. But he does add gravitas to the Bush ticket. Expect Cheney to draw attention to his experience in Washington and his expertise in defense matters. The idea to demonstrate that Bush will surround himself with reliable advisers. The Persian Gulf war is likely to come up more than once in Cheney's remarks.

Cheney will have to defend himself from the charge that he is out of touch with ordinary voters -- that he earned millions from his golden parachute, that he has not voted in local elections, that he's out to protect big oil. He will also have to defend his congressional voting record on issues like abortion and education. Lieberman will try to depict Cheney as too extreme. Cheney will go out of his way to sound moderate and reasonable. He will defend his votes as appropriate at the time. And quickly change the subject with an attack on Gore.

 
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