CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Former Vice President Dick Cheney walked onstage without any assistance and spoke for an hour and 15 minutes without seeming to tire in his first public engagement since he underwent a heart transplant three weeks ago.
He sat in a plush chair throughout the long chat with daughter Liz Cheney and looked decidedly healthier than recent appearances where he has been gaunt and used a cane.
Cheney even threw in a couple of political plugs amid much reminiscing at the Wyoming Republican Party state convention in Cheyenne on Saturday.
He said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is going to do a “whale of a job.” He said it’s never been more important than now to defeat a sitting president and the Republican Party should unite behind Romney.
“He has been an unmitigated disaster to the country,” Cheney said of President Barack Obama.
The Wyoming Republican Party chose 14 delegates Saturday to this summer’s Republican National Convention and all of them are committed to support Romney. The state will send a total of 29 delegates to the RNC.
Cheney’s heart transplant in Virginia on March 24 initially canceled his trip to the state party convention but he got last-minute medical clearance to go.
“I’m not running any foot races yet but it won’t be long,” he said.
He owed a “huge debt” to the unknown donor of his new heart, he said, and to medical technology. He did not take the opportunity to weigh in on health care politics.
He didn’t stumble in his words and his voice was clear.
“I was amazed he was able to say so much over the whole course of an hour,” said one delegate to the convention, Helen Bishop, of Moran in Jackson Hole. “I thought it would be a really brief, ‘hi.”’
Cheney neither arrived early nor stuck around to shake hands: It was fly-in, fly-out. Bishop speculated he might soon return to Jackson Hole, where he has a home in the exclusive Teton Pines neighborhood. He is an avid fly fisherman.
Nearly all of the talk traced the more than 40 years of Cheney’s political career, including the controversial waterboarding and other interrogation practices the Bush administration employed to extract information from terrorist suspects.
“It produced a wealth of information. Don’t let anybody tell you the enhanced interrogation program didn’t work. It did,” he said to the loudest applause of his visit.
Cheney has had five heart attacks. His first was during a visit to Cheyenne in 1978, when he was 37 and running for Congress for the first time. He recalled worrying about possibly having to suspend his campaign.
His doctor advised him otherwise.
“He said, ‘Hell, Dick. Hard work never killed anybody.’ Some of the best medical advice I ever got,” Cheney said to chuckles.
Cheney would go on to serve Wyoming as a congressman, winning re-election five times.
The crowd of more than 300 gave Cheney and Liz Cheney a long standing ovation.
Wyoming has among the highest rates of Republican voter registration of any state and Cheney remains a political rock star here. The thrill of many Wyomingites just to see their hero hasn’t faded with his health, though some angst tempered their excitement this time.
“We’re very concerned about him. We’re very worried about him as a friend and a colleague,” said Cherie Fisher, a delegate from Park County near Yellowstone National Park, during a smoke break.
Her own father died in need of a heart transplant and she knows what’s involved in recovering from getting a new heart, she said.
Others at Little America — a vast hotel, golf, convention and truck stop complex off the intersection of Interstates 25 and 80 — had no idea the former vice president was close by.
“I don’t know what he would have to say that I would find particularly encouraging,” said Weston McCary, of Fort Collins, Colo., after a big birthday breakfast with his family.
His mom lit up at the news Cheney was near.
“Is he really? How cool is that!” said Sharon Leavey, of Wellington, Colo.
The family didn’t plan to stick around to see the former vice president. They had young children in tow and said they might visit a museum.