Cheney Hits First Coast, Zings Kerry; Vice President Was at a Fund-Raiser for Mel Martinez

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, The Times-Union

Declaring Northeast Florida "Bush-Cheney country," Vice President Dick Cheney told a couple of hundred people Saturday that "it's time for Florida to have a Republican in the United States Senate."

The occasion was a rescheduled fund-raiser at the Omni Jacksonville Hotel for Mel Martinez, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush Cabinet and now Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Bob Graham.

But while Martinez and his wife, Kitty, shared the podium with Cheney and his wife, Lynne, the vice president was clearly the star attraction at the event.

Cheney, who arrived at in Jacksonville about 11:30 p.m. and departed the city by 1 p.m., attended a couple of private receptions and then spoke to about 200 supporters, campaign workers and reporters.

The first private reception was for the four people who had raised at least $15,000 for Martinez's campaign. The second was for people who had given at least $1,000 to the Martinez campaign. Cheney shook hands, posed for pictures and exchanged small talk.

Then everyone moved into a larger room, where members of the news media waited and, after brief remarks from Martinez and Lynne Cheney, the vice president gave a 20-minute "rally the troops" speech, delighting his audience with a series of zingers aimed at the Democratic presidential ticket of John Kerry and John Edwards.

Noting that the fund-raiser had been postponed two weeks ago because of Hurricane Jeanne, Cheney said: "Florida has endured a lot from Charley, Jeanne, Frances and Ivan. Not to mention John and John."

Referring to Friday's presidential debate between President Bush and Kerry, Cheney said: "Sen. Kerry's liveliest debate is with himself. …