Dear George, Great Choice. Best, Al Gore

Euphoria was in the air on July 25 as George W. Bush introduced former Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney as his running mate. To Team Bush, the CEO of Halliburton Co. and former Wyoming congressman is a safe, solid choice with lots of foreign policy experience--and he won't distract from the top of the ticket. "I can't think of a person more qualified to be Vice-President in terms of experience, temperament, and loyalty," says Vanderbilt University political scientist Erwin C. Hargrove.

So why the smiles at Gore headquarters? The reason: Dems are salivating at the opportunity to cast Cheney--and, by implication, Bush--as a right-wing retread beholden to oil-patch interests. Americans may think of Dick Cheney today as the unflappable Defense Secretary during the Gulf war. But a starkly different view of Cheney could soon emerge. Here's what the Gore gang wants you to know:

-- Compassionless conservative? Bush may be running as "a different kind of Republican," but Cheney had one of the most conservative records in the House from 1979 to 1989. He would ban abortions in cases of rape and incest, voted against creating the Education Dept. and the Martin Luther King holiday, opposed the 1987 Clean Water Act and bans on so-called cop-killer bullets. On the gun issue, "there is extreme, and then there is Dick Cheney," says Naomi Paiss of Handgun Control Inc.

Gore's hope: Cheney's votes will alienate a key voting bloc, suburban swing voters. "This tells us who Bush really is," says St. Louis University law professor Joel K. Goldstein, author of a book on Veep picks. "Cheney's very conservative voting record raises the question of whether this `compassionate conservative' talk is a lot of bunk."

-- Can you say "old economy"? While Gore is a self-styled techno-geek, Cheney has worked for two distinctly Old Economy Presidents, Gerald Ford and George Bush. "Dick Cheney is not associated with the New Economy," says Al From, president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. "He looks backward." But industry analysts say Cheney effectively repositioned oil-services giant Halliburton in the rapidly changing global marketplace.

-- Slick pick. The GOP ticket now features two Texas oilmen. That's the political equivalent of the Exxon-Mobil merger, says the Sierra Club's Daniel J. Weiss. While Bush is campaigning as a "reformer with results," Team Gore will use the oil ties as evidence that Bush "is clearly aligned with the powerful special interests who dominate the Republican Party," says Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway.

-- Poppy knows best. Possibly the most damaging sling of all will be aimed at the Bush family heart: In his most important decision yet, Bush raided Dad's Cabinet. Says former Gore campaign manager Craig Smith: "When it came to making the tough decision, he said, `Dad, what should I do?"'

-- Can Gore do better? Gore aides speculate that the Cheney choice will steer the Veep toward a New Economy type, such as Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, or an internationalist like Connecticut Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. If Gore wants his own graybeard, an obvious pick would be former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine, who led the Irish peace talks.

In the end, voters may care more about Cheney's foreign policy expertise and analytical powers than his 10-year-old voting record. But after watching Bush do everything right for months, the Gore team believes George W. picked a running mate who is vulnerable to attack. That's why there is joy in Goreville.

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