Cheney uses Mideast as campaign issue

By NANCY BENAC, Associated Press Writer Fri Jul 21, 10:28 PM ET

Dick Cheney on Friday pointed to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah as fresh evidence of the ongoing battle against terrorism that underscores the need to keep President Bush's Republican allies in control of Congress.

"This conflict is a long way from over," Cheney said at a fundraising appearance for a GOP congressional candidate. "It's going to be a battle that will last for a very long time. It is absolutely essential that we stay the course."

Cheney's visit to Tampa helped raise about $200,000 for the campaign of Gus Bilirakis, a state legislator who is running for the Tampa Bay area congressional seat his father, Michael, is vacating.

"Gus is going to remember that the first order of business is to protect the American people and to support the men and women who defend us in time of war," Cheney told the audience at a $500-a-ticket fundraising reception. "There's still hard work ahead in the war on terror."

Cheney said that as Republicans make their case to voters in the midterm elections, "it's vital that we keep issues of national security at the top of the agenda." He faulted Democrats in Congress who have pushed for a timetable for withdrawing Americans from

Iraq, saying that would send the wrong message to terrorists.

"If anyone thinks the conflict is over or soon to be over, all they have to do is look at what's happening in the Middle East today," he said.

Bilirakis' Democratic opponent, Phyllis Busansky, scheduled a news conference near the hotel where Cheney was appearing to argue that the Bush-Cheney administration had failed on both domestic and foreign policy fronts. In addition, a handful of demonstrators gathered outside the hotel to protest what they said were problems with the administration's prescription drug program.

Cheney has been traveling extensively on behalf of GOP candidates as the party tries to maintain control of Congress in the November elections.

Later in the day, at a rally for 8,000 troops at Fort Stewart, Ga., Cheney promised that the United States will keep fighting in Iraq until it can declare victory.

"We have only two options in Iraq: victory or defeat. And I want you to know, as members of the United States military, the American people do not support a policy of retreat of defeatism," Cheney said. "We want to complete the mission, get it done right and return with honor."

Cheney also administered the re-enlistment oath to Cpl. Jerrod Fields, a 24-year-old Army gunner from Chicago who was determined to remain in the ranks after losing his left leg last year to a bomb blast in Iraq.

"I wasn't going to let the bad guys, the enemy, affect a decision I'd already made," said Fields, who was wounded while driving a Bradley armored vehicle near Rustamayah in February 2005.