AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush introduced his running mate Dick Cheney to a cheering crowd of supporters Tuesday, calling the former defense secretary a ''valuable partner'' who will help lead Republicans to the White House.
A week before GOP delegates formally nominate the Bush-Cheney ticket, Bush turned to the man who headed his three-month search process -- bypassing several prominent Republicans who had vied for the job.
''I was impressed by his thoughtfulness and the way he approached his mission and, gradually, I realized the person who was best qualified to be my vice president was working by my side,'' Bush said.
With a pom-pom waving crowd shouting, ''Cheney! Cheney'' the former Pentagon chief said he never expected to land the job.
''I enthusiastically accept the challenge for this reason: I believe you have the vision and the courage to be a great president,'' Cheney told Bush. His wife, Lynne, and Bush's wife, Laura, shared the stage at a University of Texas conference room.
Cheney, 59, brings the ticket a wealth of foreign policy experience and political stature -- traits that Bush, a two-term Texas governor, lacks himself. He is a link between Bush, 54, and his father, former President Bush, who put Cheney in his Cabinet and promoted him for his son's ticket.
The choice was welcomed by Alaska's all-Republican congressional delegation.
''He's a close personal friend who will be good for Alaska. We think his outlooks and experience in the Western states with oil development will bode well,'' said Greg Thom, an aide to Rep. Don Young. ''He was a co-sponsor of Congressman Young's efforts to open ANWR when he was in Congress.''
And Sen. Frank Murkowski called Cheney ''a solid guy who will add a lot to the ticket.'' Murkowski is honorary co-chairman for Bush in Alaska.
After promising an ''electrifying'' choice, Bush took the safe route: Cheney is a rock-solid conservative who poses little or no political risk. Bolder choices were available, including abortion-rights Govs. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and George Pataki of New York.
The newly minted ticket travels to Wednesday to Cheney's home state of Wyoming. Republican presidential candidates rarely visit the solid GOP state, but Bush ignored the usual geographical concerns in picking Cheney.
Cheney had to switch his voter registration from Texas to Wyoming to avoid a constitutional problem when a presidential and vice presidential candidate live in the same state.
''I saw first hand Dick Cheney's outstanding judgment,'' the Texas governor said, urging delegates to nominate the former defense secretary. ''I picked him because he is fully capable of being president of the United States and I picked him because he will be a valuable partner.''
Bush placed the call from the governor's mansion in Austin at 6:22 a.m. to offer Cheney the job. The offer was a mere formality; Republican officials had leaked news of the decision Monday night.
Cheney suffered three heart attacks by age 48, and has undergone coronary bypass surgery. But a doctor commissioned by the Bush campaign issued a statement saying his health ''should not interfere with a strenuous political campaign.''
The campaign released a statement Tuesday from Cheney's doctor who said the nominee-in-waiting has been treated for skin cancer and high cholesterol. He takes ''a long list of medications,'' said the doctor, Gary Malakoff of George Washington University in Washington. ''Mr. Cheney is in excellent health,'' he concluded.
Once Cheney accepted, Bush made calls to the also-rans, thanking them for their participation. Among those contacted: Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson of Tennessee, John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Govs. Ridge, Pataki, Frank Keating of Oklahoma and Christie Whitman of New Jersey, and former Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.
Other running prospects included Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio, and former Missouri Sen. John Danforth.
Fashioning an impressive resume in two decades of public service, Cheney served as President Ford's chief of staff, six terms in Congress from Wyoming and four years as Pentagon chief, where he successfully executed the Persian Gulf War.
Republican officials welcomed the prospect of a Bush-Cheney ticket.
Frist, a contender for the job until the end, called Cheney ''a man with substance (with) serious broad experience in the public as well as private sector.''
Hagel of Nebraska, another contender, said Cheney ''represents the quality, character and experience that America is searching for in national leadership.''
Vice President Al Gore, whose convention begins Aug. 14 in Los Angeles, is considering a number of candidates, including former Senate George Mitchell of Maine, Florida Sen. Bob Graham and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
All signs had pointed to Cheney for days. He told business associates he had a good chance of getting the job and leaving his company, Halliburton Co. of Dallas; and he forwarded an all-clear health report from his doctors to Bush.
Cheney sold nearly half his interest in Halliburton stock -- some 100,000 shares -- last month, raising an estimated $5.1 million. Before the sale, Cheney held options on 229,000 shares.
The health report came at the behest of Bush and his father, both of whom wanted to know whether Cheney's history of heart trouble would pose a problem in the campaign.
Sensitive to suggestions that the elder Bush is a quiet power behind his son's White House bid, campaign spokeswoman Hughes said the call to Cheney's doctor was the only action taken by the former president in the review process.
Cheney served as defense secretary under President Bush, helping the president forge an international coalition in the Persian Gulf War. Before that, he served in Congress and as chief of staff for Ford.
Bush has faced questions about whether he is ready to be president, and advisers believe a running mate who knows his way around the White House -- and around the world -- would fill in the so-called gravitas gap.
In Congress, Cheney appealed to moderates, but racked up a conservative voting record and was a solid Ronald Reagan supporter. He was mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Bush in 1992.
He is anti-abortion but says the party must accommodate Republicans on both sides of the debate.
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