Cheney Makes Political Visit to Alabama; Democrats Criticize Gov. Riley

Cheney was only in Dothan for about three hours.
Cheney was only in Dothan for about three hours.

It's not every day that the second most powerful man in the world visits Alabama. Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney spent a few hours in Dothan. He attended a $5,000/couple dinner at a private home to raise money for Governor Bob Riley's re-election campaign.

Cheney did not speak to the media and reporters were not allowed inside. Organizers predicted the event would raise as much as $250,000.

As you might imagine, democrats are trying to put a negative spin on the vice president's visit. They say the invitation-only affair sends the wrong message.

"I wish Governor Riley had used this opportunity to do something constructive," said Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham.

With farmers struggling through a drought in Alabama and our troops exposed to violence abroad, democrats say Cheney should have taken time to talk to real Alabamians.

"If the vice president had taken this opportunity to tour Ft. Rucker or to meet with Alabama farmers, that would be one thing," Turnham said. "But this has been purely a private event, no public access, and has really not addressed the issues our people care about."

The Riley campaign insists the governor has already addressed those issues.

"The governor has been in Washington, D.C. just as recently as a few weeks ago, talking with the secretary of agriculture about these issues," said Dax Swatek of the Riley campaign. "I think it's just political pandering and something that voters aren't going to pay much attention to."

Another controversy surrounds the cost of Cheney's visit. When you factor in staff salaries, the secret service, and operational costs of Air Force 2, it adds up to tens of thousands of dollars.

Democrats point out that most of that money will be paid by taxpayers, since the Riley campaign is required to pay back only a fraction.

"It won't be any different when Lucy Baxley brings John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Howard Dean to campaign for her," said Riley spokesman Josh Blades. "The  Riley campaign has followed all federal regulations dealing with reimbursement to the letter of the law."

Baxley said she was surprised that Riley chose to hold the fundraiser in Houston county, which is where she grew up. She said she was surprised he could raise any money in the area.

Reporter: Mark Bullock