Democrats still prize Bush as a bogeyman months after election

Democrats just can’t seem to quit George W. Bush.

Four and a half months into the 2010 election cycle and two months after Bush yielded his presidency, the new party in charge clings to its favorite bogeyman as a campaign issue.

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Bush’s unpopularity played a big part delivering the last two elections to the Dems, so don’t expect them to let go anytime soon.

When former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) joined Connecticut’s Senate race Sunday, Democrats unearthed a 2004 quote in which Simmons described himself as “a big fan of the president’s.”

When former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday praised Ohio Senate candidate and former Rep. Rob Portman (R), a Democratic spokesman wondered aloud if Cheney could do for Portman “what he did for Ohio’s economy.”

And when Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) joined the Senate race in Missouri, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) said the former House majority whip would have to explain his votes with Bush.

It’s still early and most races have yet to take shape, especially in the House, but Democrats have been invoking Bush as if it’s a reflex.

A lot of it has to do with the current economic troubles, which Democrats and the Obama administration will continue to blame on Bush.

Democrats disagree on the strategy on several counts, though: first, whether it’s wise to continue going to the well. And second, whether it will work in late 2010, when it really matters.

Top Democrats admit the strategy has its detractors, especially with an administration that has emphasized a forward-looking philosophy. One former staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
(DCCC) suggested that hitting Bush still works now but is unlikely to be a full-cycle strategy.

“There is a certain contingent that says it’s time to move on,” the former staffer said. “If these guys are stuck running on Bush for the next two years, and that’s all they talk about, that would be a mistake.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern disagrees. He said any dissent on the Bush strategy is only coming from Washington-based strategists.

“Everybody in Ohio agrees” with the strategy, Redfern said. “You always get folks who want to cast judgment and collect big fees.”

Perhaps more than in any other state, Bush is likely to loom over the Ohio Senate race in 2010. Democrats have made clear that their first line of attack on Portman is his time as the Bush-appointed U.S. trade representative.

{mospagebreak}Redfern said the economic issues faced by Ohio have given the issue the staying power it needs to keep Bush relevant in 2010, and that the party will use the Bush connection throughout the race.

Democratic pollster John Anzalone said Bush has continued to poll poorly in districts across the country in the two months since he left office, and that it’s clearly still a beneficial tack for Democrats.

“Right now, all you’re really talking about is the strategy that’s used in fundraising for red meat to hardcore Democrats,” Anzalone said.

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Republicans have praised the recruitment of proven fundraisers like Blunt and Simmons. But bringing on candidates who have served in the House also gives Democrats the opportunity and votes they need to use the same strategy they used to knock off dozens of incumbents the last two elections — including Simmons in 2006.

“When the other side picks candidates with strong ties to President Bush and his economic policies, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that those records are fair game,” said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz.

The strategy appears more likely to stick with Blunt than with Simmons, who built a centrist record in the House while representing a Democratic-leaning district.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said he can understand Democrats using the strategy with Bush having been out of office only a few months, but that it’s a losing battle in the long term.

“Clearly this worked for them the last two cycles, but they don’t seem to have gotten the memo that Bush is no longer president,” Walsh said.

National Democrats admit Bush might be harder to insert into some races, particularly if Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) runs for Senate or if former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman defeats Blunt in a primary. Both provide little in the way of a link to Bush and have actually worked to separate themselves from the national party.

Anzalone said the strategy should be relegated mostly to incumbents and former members.

“I don’t think that guilt-by-association for your generic Republican challenger is probably going to be that good, unless they really wrapped themselves around Bush during a certain period of time,” he said.

The strategy hasn’t been limited to the Senate, though, as Democrats have tried to tag Bush to the Republican in this month’s special election to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) former House seat, Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.

In fact, the strategy is actually being used at the state legislative level, too. When former Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) announced he would run for the state Senate in 2010, the New Hampshire Democratic Party labeled him one of Bush’s “biggest enablers.”