Democrats in Va. Still Running Against Bush

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009

Six months after George W. Bush, the man, quietly decamped to a Dallas suburb, George W. Bush, the political symbol, has come out of retirement.

Convinced that Americans still hold Bush responsible for the nation's economic woes -- and will show more patience with Democratic policies if reminded of their dissatisfaction with the eight years of his presidency -- Democratic candidates have stepped up efforts to link GOP opponents to Bush, repeating a strategy that helped them take over Congress, the White House and a number of state offices in the past two election cycles.

In Virginia, Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds has pounced on statements by Republican Robert F. McDonnell indicating that Bush's tax cuts were good for the economy in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The Bush name has littered Deeds's statements in the past week.

"Let's be clear: George Bush is responsible for our economic problems," Deeds said recently when asked an unrelated question about the record of the state's sitting Democratic governor. "We are more than happy to compare their records."

Likewise, in New Jersey, the only other state with a November gubernatorial election, Gov. Jon S. Corzine (D) has been running ads that tie his Republican opponent, Christopher Christie, to Bush. With President Obama at his side last month, Corzine warned against handing over New Jersey's statehouse to the "same people who failed so miserably in the White House."

And last week, the Democratic National Committee released ads targeting four Republican members of Congress whom they accuse of blocking Obama's agenda, tagging the group with backing Bush policies that created the recession. "They broke it," the ad says. "Now they refuse to fix it."

The strategy is aimed at defusing Republican attacks on Obama's administration by refocusing attention on how unhappy people were when Bush was in charge. And in New Jersey and Virginia, it is designed to recapture the electoral enthusiasm that brought Democrats victory last year.

The two states will serve as a testing ground to see whether candidates can still turn elections into a referendum on the Bush years. If successful, it is a playbook likely to be used again for the 2010 congressional elections and beyond.

"One of the benefits of being in the minority is you get to sit on the sidelines and throw stones," said Nathan Daschle, executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. "We as a party need to remind people of their record when they were in power."

Republicans insist that voters have already shifted responsibility for the economy to Democrats, who control Congress and the White House. They say that Bush has lost his potency to excite voters and that running against his record again is a trap that will lead voters to conclude that Democrats do not have plans for the future.

"I'm sure what happens is they sit around the table and poll George Bush and find that he's still unpopular," said Phil Musser, former executive director of the Republican Governors Association and a political strategist. "Shocking! But it's a tired argument that reflects an old playbook. Didn't America just vote to change the negative politics of the past?"

The Deeds campaign believes McDonnell has made Bush relevant again through comments suggesting that he would be guided by the economic philosophies that drove Bush to cut taxes in the early part of this decade.

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