Look out! The Bush brand is hot in the 2014 campaign.

Blink and you might have missed it. The Bush brand is back in vogue on the campaign trail.


Former U.S. president George W. Bush watches before the start of the MLB American League baseball game between the Texas Rangers and the Chicago White Sox in Arlington, Texas April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone

Five years and two months after George W. Bush left the White House scorned by most of the country and his own party, Bush administration alumni and family of the 43rd president are in high demand this midterm election year. Some leading Republican groups and candidates have eagerly solicited their help while others have embraced Bush's legacy with renewed enthusiasm. Even a vulnerable Democrat recently sought to align himself closer to Bush than to President Obama.

The renaissance is a result of an Obama malaise, Republicans say, as well as a fluid Republican Party without a clear leader in which there is a premium on experience.

"The Bush brand is making a comeback because the hope and change promises that President Obama made never came true," said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican strategist who worked in Commerce Department under Bush.  "The feelings of many Americans that Obama has seriously bungled the economy, health care and foreign policy has created a yearning for something better."

The latest member of Bush's presidential orbit to make an entree into midterm politics is his former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Rice appears in a new ad for the conservative super PAC American Crossroads defending Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan (R). Sullivan is a former Bush State Department official who has emerged as the leading Republican in the race to take on Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

Rice, who was Bush's national security adviser during his controversial decision to invade Iraq, has gradually begun to play a bigger role in politics after returning to academia in 2009. She is set to boost House Republicans by headlining a Wednesday National Republican Congressional Committee fundraiser.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R), brother of the 43rd president and potential 2016 contender, has also recently raised his 2014 profile. He appeared in a Chamber of Commerce commercial for now-Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) earlier this year. The ad came at a crucial time when Jolly lacked the funds to mount a robust positive ad campaign of his own.

Jeb Bush is also a huge fundraising draw because of his deep donor network. He plans to raise money for New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) this week. Meanwhile, his son George P. Bush is the Republican nominee for land commissioner in Texas.

Elsewhere, congressional candidates have tied themselves to the Bush White House. Ed Gillespie, White House counsel under the 43rd president, is running for Senate in Virginia. His introductory video included photographs of the two together. Facing a tough race in a conservative West Virginia district, Rep. Nick Rahall (D) recently told The Hill newspaper, "I probably have supported George Bush more than I have Barack Obama."

Much of the public still blames the former president for the nation's economic troubles, polling shows. So he's still somewhat ripe for Democratic attacks in a presidential election. And Jeb Bush could face serious problems appealing to the broad electorate.

But in a more limited midterm electorate in which Obama is looking more and more like a liability at the moment and the GOP is increasingly bullish about strong turnout on their side, some Republicans say, the Bush legacy can be an asset.

"The Bush fatigue that is still prevalent in much of the Republican Party is really at the presidential campaign level; it doesn’t extend to mid-term endorsements. Candidates would be wise to seek out a Condi Rice especially with the foreign policy problems on our hands under Obama," said conservative strategist Keith Appell.

George W. Bush has yet to make a campaign appearance even as polls last year showed his image was on the mend. Since leaving office he has kept a deliberately low profile. He was mostly absent from the 2012 campaign trail and isn't expected to be a prominent figure in this year's campaign.

But being associated with the former president is not the political liability it was in the immediate wake of the Bush administration's closing chapter in 2009, when he wrapped up his presidency with a dismal approval rating against the backdrop of a troubled economy and an unpopular war in Iraq for which the public held him mostly responsible.

Obama ran in 2008 as the anti-Bush. A competent leader who could get the country moving again and turn the page on what many voters saw as a disastrous period in American history. In 2014, running as the anti-Obama has become the dominant Republican campaign strategy, given the incumbent's low approval rating.

There is clearly room now under that GOP tent for a name that was once banished.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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