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CAMPAIGN 2000

2 Sisters' Quiet Push for Father

Campaign: Cheney's daughters have key jobs in his quest. But unlike other political offspring, they've avoided the spotlight.

October 01, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dick Cheney remembers the day his two daughters rebelled.

It was at a Civil War battlefield--the umpteenth one he'd dragged them to throughout their childhood--and a military reenactment was about to begin. Yellow jackets swarmed and the sun was so hot the family basset hound, he still recalls, "nearly expired."

"Oh, Dad!" they told him. "Can't we just go to a zoo?"

Those teenage girls are now women, still on hand to provide dad an occasional reality check. But now they are volunteers, along with their mother, Lynne, in his quest for the vice presidency. For the tightknit family, it's a chance not just to study history, but to make it together.

Still, Liz and Mary have shied away from the spotlight, even as other political offspring are highly visible. Karenna Gore Schiff stumps for her dad. George P. Bush made Spanish-language television commercials for his uncle. Joseph I. Lieberman's three eldest children have hit the campaign trail on their own.

The Cheney sisters have more quietly taken important roles in their father's pursuit of national office, putting plans on hold and opening their personal lives to scrutiny.

The closeness of the family is apparent to any observer. At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, for example, the 31-year-old Mary and her father were in the stands whispering back and forth like a couple at a movie.

The Cheneys are protective of their daughters, proudly talking about their accomplishments but avoiding personal details of their lives and even snapping at unwelcome questions. Concerns for his daughters' privacy played a role in Cheney's decision in 1996 to bow out of the presidential primaries.

So, the decision to run this time was not an easy one, Cheney said.

"There were a lot of good reasons not to do it," he said in a recent interview on his campaign plane. "It was my decision to make, but I would never have made it without taking time to speak to Lynne and Liz and Mary. I took on board what they had to say and it carried great weight with me."

Mary, the first openly gay child of a major party candidate for the White House, is one of her father's closest confidants. Although her father rarely talks about gay rights issues, the Republican platform says gays should not serve in the military, be allowed to marry or be granted special legal protection.

For Mary, who has not responded to pointed criticism of Republicans by gay and lesbian activists, signing on with her dad's campaign has meant long days and nights on the trail as her father's personal assistant.

She keeps a low profile, reticent with reporters. Only half in jest, she called out "off the record" when she took the traditional campaign plane plunge, sliding down the aisle on a food tray during a recent take-off.

"We feel very strongly about the fact that she's entitled to her private life, as is Liz," Cheney said, noting that he is the candidate, not his wife or children. "But we were eager to have Mary come participate if she wanted to--and she clearly wanted to--just as we were eager to have Liz participate."

His oldest daughter, Elizabeth Cheney Perry, 34, is also playing an important--although even further offstage--role. Her father put her in charge of debate preparation for Thursday's vice presidential showdown in Danville, Ky.

Although the daughters have refused interview requests through their father's campaign staff, their parents say the time they have spent together as a family is one of the highlights of the race so far.

Both daughters have put their careers on hold to work for the campaign as unpaid volunteers. Liz, a Washington-based attorney, is the mother of three girls, the youngest born at the end of March. She extended her maternity leave from a firm where she worked on World Bank issues to help her parents.

Mary postponed plans to attend graduate school this fall to earn an MBA. Until recently, she had been a liaison to the gay and lesbian community for the Denver-based Coors Brewing Co.

To Cheney, the main benefit of having family around is clear: "Brutal honesty."

And in that sense he calls Mary "ideal" for the role she is in.

"I might try to brush her off or push her to the side when she tries to tell me something," he said. "She's never intimidated by me. If I say 'Mary, I don't want to hear that right now' or 'Buzz off, I've got other things to do,' she'll come right back and say, 'Dad you need to know this.' "

Liz, whom Lynne Cheney has called her best friend, was a steady presence at the convention as well, most often at her mother's side. At home with her children in a Washington suburb, she has kept in touch with parents and sister by cell phone. She listened in while Mary took her ride on the food tray down the airplane aisle.

"She was calling out, 'Hello? Hello?' but no one heard her," said Lynne Cheney, laughing. "I talked to her this morning and she said: 'I was so jealous, I wanted to be there.' "

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