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In difficult midterm election, Democrats back to bashing George W. Bush

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By Michael D. Shear
Sunday, August 8, 2010

As they brace for difficult fall elections, dispirited Democrats hoping to get back some of that 2008 magic are turning to the president for inspiration.

President Bush, that is.

Grainy images of the former president flashed across the screen in a recent ad by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) is attacking his GOP rival in a Senate race for his "advancement of the Bush agenda."

Even President Obama has begun taking direct shots at his predecessor, something he had been careful to avoid in recent months.

"They don't have a single idea that's different from George Bush's ideas -- not one," Obama said during speeches this week at fundraisers in Atlanta and Chicago.

In interviews, mailings and television ads, Democratic candidates are again hauling out the specter of the former president to use as a foil. Nearly two years after he left office and virtually disappeared from public view, Bush -- his image, his policies, his legacy -- are being dragged back into the public arena.

The strategy could backfire for Democrats, who risk appearing desperate by blaming Bush instead of taking responsibility. Former Bush strategist Karl Rove called it a "deadly street to go down" for Democratic candidates who have "no next act" to promote.

But Democratic strategists, from the White House down, say invoking the ex-president helps clarify their message: Republicans would return the country to a time of failed economic policies.

"God bless America that he's back in the conversation," said a senior Democratic official on Capitol Hill. "It's a blessing from the heavens. If this becomes a referendum on George Bush, we are in a much better spot than anyone could imagine."

Bush left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. His approval rating sank to the mid-20s as he struggled to respond to the near-collapse of the economy. Democrats think reminding voters about why they disliked Bush will translate into a boost in support.

There is even the hope circulating among some Democratic strategists that Bush's forthcoming memoir -- due out days after the election -- will leak to the press early, creating a flurry of Bush legacy stories in the run-up to the fall midterm elections.


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