The senator says public is being misled over Iraq, while the Veep calls U.S. action "correct"

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated October 06, 2004 08:00 AM

Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate Sen. John Edwards met face-to-face in a Tuesday night debate that was barely civil and often nasty, with the Republican challenging the younger Edwards’s record of experience – and Edwards doing the same of Cheney and President Bush.

Seated across the table from moderator journalist Gwen Ifill, the two men visibly displayed their disdain for one another, starting from the opening shot, when Edwards came out saying the current administration is “still not being straight with the American people” over Iraq.

“Mr. Vice President,” said the North Carolina senator, 51, “there is no connection between the attacks of Sept. 11 and Saddam Hussein. The 9/11 commission has said it. Your own secretary of state has said it. And you’ve gone around the country suggesting that there is some connection. There is not.”

Remaining cool throughout, though his lips were frequently pursed, Cheney, 63, continually hammered home the point that the administration, in facing the issues of Iraq, education and health care, was making “significant progress.”

“What we did in Iraq was the right thing to do,” said Cheney. “If I had it to recommend all over again, I would recommend exactly the same course of action.”

In the course of their verbal sparring, Cheney – who presides over the Senate – attacked Edwards s attendance record in Congress. He told the senator: “The first time I ever met you was when we walked onstage tonight.”

After the debate, news reports noted that this was not true: Cheney and Edwards had met twice before.

Asked about laws to ban gay marriage, Cheney, who has a gay daughter, suggested that although he may not agree with the President’s desire to pass such a law (the House of Representatives shot down the bill last week), he was loyal to Bush and would support whatever legislation the commander in chief offered. Edwards said the U.S. Constitution does not call for such a law, and praised Cheney as a loving father.

The Vice President thanked him.

On Friday, President Bush and Sen. John Kerry will meet for their second debate.