Democrats Try to Run Against Bush/Cheney One More Time
By Ben Pershing
After picking up seats in both 2006 and 2008 by linking Republican candidates to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, Democrats seem intent to find out whether that playbook will work one more time in 2010.
Even though Bush and Cheney have both been out of office for two months now, Democrats haven't stopped trying to use them as a campaign tool, tarring GOP hopefuls as acolytes of the duo that left the White House with historically low approval ratings.
On Monday, former Rep. Rob Simmons (R) announced that he would challenge Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) in Connecticut next year, giving the GOP a legitimate candidate against a veteran Senator whose own poll numbers have been dropping in recent months. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee didn't waste any time revealing its plan of attack against Simmons, issuing a release calling the former lawmaker "a staunch supporter" of Bush's policies and digging up a 2004 quote in which Simmons said he was "a big fan" of the president.
A couple of hours later, the DSCC went after another prized GOP recruit - Rob Portman, the former lawmaker and Bush administration official. After Cheney cited Portman as part of "a new generation of leaders" for the party in a CNN interview that aired Sunday, the DSCC reminded reporters of "Portman's key role on the Bush-Cheney Administration's economic team" and wondered - sarcastically - whether Cheney might come campaign for Portman in his contest for the Ohio seat being vacated by retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R).
And you can expect more attacks along those same lines against Rep. Roy Blunt (R) - a former member of the leadership and close ally of the Bush administration now running for Senate in Missouri.
The Democrats' strategy here is obvious. Bush and Cheney are still unpopular, so why not force Republican candidates either to embrace them or run away? The question, though, is whether that line of attack will lose its potency the third time around, and whether voters will tire of it by the time Election Day 2010 comes.
"My immediate reaction to seeing these recycled attacks was that if this their plan is to run the 2006 playbook in the 2010 election then I'm already more optimistic about the chances for Senate Republicans next year," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
"Look, clearly this worked for the Democrats the last two cycles but they don't seem to have gotten the memo that George Bush is no longer the president. They are now the party in charge at a time when our country is facing very tough economic times, and they no longer have anyone to point fingers at."
So are Democrats admitting that they have nothing new to say? Or is it really the Republicans who are being unoriginal? That's the case Democrats make - the GOP is inviting these attacks by recruiting so cautiously, rather than seeking out fresh, independent voices.
"Given the state of the Republican brand right now, it is more than curious that the other side is running the faces of the party establishment," said DSCC spokesman Eric Schultz. "After all, running Rob Portman for Senate from Ohio is like asking the captain of the Titanic to be head of the Coast Guard."
Given that Bush and Cheney were in office for eight years, it would be difficult for Republicans to find many top-tier candidates who weren't linked to the former administration or at least supportive of its agenda. But veteran GOP candidates will have to try to make the case for why they represent change.
And regardless of whether Republicans succeed in that effort, or Democrats succeed in theirs, strategists in both parties know that 2010 won't be a referendum on the former president so much as the current one. The real question is one to which we won't know the answer for some time: In which direction will candidates run, toward President Obama or away from him?
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