The Monday Fix: In 2010 Senate Races, Democrats Beating Up on Bush
Dusting off a strategy that proved successful in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats have begun linking Republican candidates in 2010 Senate races to George W. Bush.
But can this work nearly two years after Bush left the White House?
In Ohio, Democrats are attacking former congressman Rob Portman for his past ties to Bush. Portman served in two Cabinet-level posts in the previous administration: U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent around a story late last week from the Youngstown Vindicator noting that Portman has yet to ask Bush or former vice president Richard B. Cheney to campaign for him. The article also cited a Congressional Quarterly study showing that Portman, in his 12 years in the House, voted with Bush 95 percent of the time.
"The Bush trade czar running for the Senate from Ohio is like the captain of the Titanic wanting to be head of the Coast Guard," said the DSCC's communications director, Eric Schultz. Switching his metaphors to a different mode of transportation, he added: "When the Edsel bombed, Ford moved on to different models. It may take next November for national Republicans to learn the same lesson."
Democrats may take a similar tack in Missouri, where Rep. Roy Blunt, onetime acting House majority leader, is running to replace retiring Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R), and in Connecticut, where former congressman Rob Simmons (R) is seeking to take on Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D).
There's reason to think such a strategy will pay off. The increasingly outspoken Cheney has ensured that the past administration has stayed in the limelight, and polling shows that Bush remains broadly unpopular.
But the midterm elections are nearly 18 months away, and Bush seems to have little inclination to reemerge on the national political stage. So, for many voters, the former president will be out of sight, out of mind.
Recent political history suggests that time out of office has a warming effect on public opinion of past presidents. Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, among others, have seen their personal favorability ratings rise as voters have tended to remember their accomplishments and forget their failures.
So attacks linking Republican candidates to Bush aren't a sure thing for any Democratic candidate.
Mark McKinnon, a media consultant who handled television advertising for Bush, says that times will have changed by the time candidates face voters in 2010 and that simply connecting Republicans to the former president won't be a winning strategy.
"Beating up on Bush is a reflex for Democrats," McKinnon said. "But running past campaigns is a recipe for failure."