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Democrats in Va. Still Running Against Bush

In late June, McDonnell, a former attorney general, told an audience that Bush's tax reductions were "followed by an unprecedented period of economic recovery and economic growth" that by 2006 had "almost overheated" the nation's markets.

"I think that's the way you stimulate business," McDonnell said. "And that's the kind of governor that I'm going to be, to reduce those impediments to entrepreneurship, to let small businesses grow and thrive and create some opportunity."

Add those comments to McDonnell's record as a member of the House of Delegates -- where he opposed budgetary policies advanced by Gov. Mark Warner (D), now a U.S. senator and the most popular political figure in the state -- and the Deeds camp believes it has a powerful argument that Virginians cannot trust McDonnell to manage state government in a recession.

"People remembered the disastrous era of Herbert Hoover, and Democrats successfully ran against him for a long time," said Deeds's campaign manager, Joe Abbey. "Even in the era of Facebook and Twitter, people remember six months ago."

Rather than backing off his embrace of Bush tax cuts, McDonnell reaffirmed his praise for Bush's handling of the economy during his first years in office when he met Deeds in their first debate a little more than a week ago. He insisted that freeing business from government regulation is the way to spur growth.

But a spokesman notes that McDonnell has criticized Bush for failing to curb federal spending. McDonnell was also a critic of No Child Left Behind and a Bush-era Energy Department policy, seeking to dictate power line placement to states, that met bipartisan opposition in Virginia.

McDonnell has also praised Obama's education platform even as he has tried to saddle Deeds with Obama's push for health care reform, limits on greenhouse emissions and the federal stimulus spending, all of which McDonnell believes make Virginians uneasy.

"I don't think anyone would disagree that you don't get into an economy like this one without mistakes being made by both parties," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "I wish we had the luxury to stand around and debate who's to blame. But I don't think Virginians have time for it."

Indeed, according to a July poll in New Jersey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, only 10 percent of those surveyed felt it was fair for Corzine to attack Christie as being too close to Bush, while 77 percent said Corzine should focus on state issues.

"You remember Bush? He used to be president? Now he's a guy who lives in Texas," said Maurice Carroll, director of the institute. "I just don't know if it's going to work."

But Bush has hardly dropped from the headlines, as new revelations about his administration emerge almost daily. The goal in the two state races, Democrats say, is to use Bush's policies to draw an analogy as to how Republicans would govern on local issues.

And, if it works, Bush will be back for the congressional midterm elections next year.

"If the two Democrats win governor's posts by attacking George Bush, you better believe you'll see a lot of it in 2010," said national Democratic strategist Tad Devine. "These races are real-world laboratories, to a very real extent. If, in fact, we see Democrats lose, that could be the end of Bush bashing."

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