PHOENIX - Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Democrats during a speech at an Arizona Republican Party fundraiser here Tuesday, saying the party "turned its back" on Sen. Joe Lieberman and would abandon Iraq if it had its way.
Cheney's remarks continued criticism he first made last week following the primary defeat of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman by Ned Lamont, an anti-war candidate.
"Sen. Lieberman was my opponent in 2000 - Al Gore's running mate, a longtime senator, and one of the most loyal and distinguished Democrats of his generation," Cheney said. "Joe is also an unapologetic supporter of the fight against terror. He voted to support military action in Iraq when most other senators in both parties did the same - and he's had the courage to stick by that vote even when things get tough. And now, for that reason alone, the Dean Democrats have defeated Joe Lieberman."
Cheney appeared at a $500-a-plate luncheon at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa, his second visit to the state this year in support of Republican candidates. The event raised more than $300,000 for the state Republican Party. A March fundraiser for Sen. Jon Kyl raised about $500,000 for his re-election effort.
Cheney urged the 300 party faithful at the event to redouble their efforts to get out the vote, noting their efforts in 2004 gave President Bush a 10-point margin of victory in Arizona.
But the vice president spent the bulk of his speech addressing the war against terrorism and the Democrats, pointing out the ongoing "vigorous debate" on how to deal with the situation in Iraq.
He dismissed Democrats who called for a troop pullout deadline, saying it was a "bad idea." He criticized Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., for his suggestion that troops be pulled back to Okinawa and his use of examples of previous pullouts.
"If we follow U.S. Rep. Murtha's advice and withdraw from Iraq the same way we withdrew from Beirut in 1983 or Mogadishu in 1993, we will simply validate the al-Qaida strategy and invite more terrorist attacks in the future," Cheney said.
The fundraiser will help the state Republican Party promote candidates in the November election.
Several state races are expected to be tight, with many pointing to the 8th Congressional District in Tucson as one most likely to need the money. Retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe's seat is being targeted by the Democratic Party, which has committed $30 million to buy ads supporting candidates in roughly two dozen districts across the country, including the 8th.
Six Democrats are vying for the chance to run in the general election, with Gabrielle Giffords, a former state senator, and former television anchor Patty Weiss leading the pack in campaign contributions.
Five Republicans are in the race, including state Rep. Steve Huffman, former Republican state Rep. Randy Graf, who lost to Kolbe in the 2004 primary, and Republican Mike Hellon, a former GOP national committeeman for Arizona. Kolbe has endorsed Huffman.
State Democrats also hold high hopes that former state Sen. Harry Mitchell, a former party chairman, can unseat U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a Republican who has been outspoken on immigration.
Hayworth said Tuesday that having the vice president stop at a party fundraiser "is always a good thing."
He said the decision voters face in November comes down to one thing.
"Who do you trust to protect the American people" Hayworth said.
The most expensive race in the state is for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Jon Kyl. Kyl is facing Democratic challenger Jim Pederson, a shopping center developer and millionaire who has already funneled more than $3 million of his own money into his campaign. Kyl still leads in fundraising, however, and in the polls.
The state Democratic Party issued a statement calling Cheney's visit a mistake by the Republicans.
"This fundraiser is a real misfire in Arizona, where voters are sick and tired of this Republican Congress who can't get anything done," said Democratic Party Chairman David Waid. "It's clear from Kyl's cheerleading for Cheney and support of this failed administration that Kyl is out of touch with Arizona."
Cheney, who flew into Arizona from a vacation in Jackson Hole, Wyo., left the state immediately after his 15 minute speech, heading to a similar event in Roswell, N.M.