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Republicans, Democrats and the George W. Bush factor

By Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

1. His memoir isn't due to hit the shelves for another three months, but George W. Bush is well on his way to returning to the national spotlight.

It's not that Bush hasn't been keeping a low profile -- he has. (His first one-on-one TV interview since leaving office isn't slated to happen until the week after the midterms.) Rather, it's that Republicans and Democrats alike just can't seem to stop talking about the former president.

Consider the remarks made by guests on the Sunday morning news shows.

Democrats, as they've been doing for the past several weeks, continued to place the blame for the country's economic woes squarely on the former president's shoulders.

Term-limited Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," described the decision facing voters this fall as one hinging on whether to go "back to the Bush kind of policies which, of course, started this whole recession to begin with." On C-SPAN's "Newsmakers," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also invoked the former president and accused national Republicans of having "no credibility" when it comes to economic policy.

Meanwhile, two potential Republican contenders for president in 2012 -- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- mentioned the former president in interviews over the weekend. Both governors defended the Bush tax cuts, with Daniels (who served as Bush's first budget director) waxing particularly nostalgic about the state of the economy during the tenure of his former boss.

"Those deficits -- we would love to be back at those levels today," Daniels said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday," adding that "the deficit before this recession started, and a year to go in the Bush administration, was one-sixth the size of the ones we are running now."

Daniels' remarks echoed those of national Republican leaders -- and a number of Republican candidates across the country -- who have been defending the Bush presidency out of anticipation that the former president's public image is on the rebound (not to mention the hope that Bush will be far from the minds of voters in 2010).

Even so, there are signs that some candidates are still figuring out how exactly to approach the Bush factor in their campaigns.

Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R), for instance, took the debate over Bush into new territory after he made disparaging remarks about the former president last week in an interview with Baltimore's WCBM radio station.

Hayworth told host Tom Marr that Bush "was dead wrong on the border" -- then added that "the sad fact about the Bush family is this stubborn notion of noblesse oblige combined with verbal dyslexia."

Those comments saw Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) leap to Bush's defense, calling Hayworth a "pathetic, desperate man" and accusing him of "joining the left-wing 'Blame It On Bush' brigades."

All told, with the former president's approval rating still dismal but with voter frustration directed at Washington's current occupants, at least this much can be counted on: the Bush card remains a wild card this fall, and both sides will be talking about the former president for the weeks and months to come.

2. A new poll in Georgia shows former state Secretary of State Karen Handel (R) with a narrow lead over former Rep. Nathan Deal (R) ahead of tomorrow's gubernatorial primary runoff.

Handel, who won with 34 percent to Deal's 23 percent in the July 20 primary, now leads Deal 47 percent to 42 percent in the new Mason-Dixon poll, which surveyed 625 likely Republican primary voters and had a margin of error of four percentage points.

11 percent of likely voters remain undecided -- and both campaigns are bringing in GOP luminaries in an effort to woo those voters in the closing days of the race.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who endorsed Deal in the race last Thursday, has recorded robocalls for Deal and campaigned with him on Sunday.

Deal "did not suddenly find his political voice for life to run for this office," Huckabee told about 800 supporters at an event in Gainesville.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), meanwhile, is hitting the Peach State today to stump for Handel. The two are slated to appear together at a noon event in Atlanta.

In addition to the involvement of Huckabee and Palin, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is backing Deal, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is lining up behind Handel.

The race, which was contentious even before the primary, has gotten especially nasty in recent weeks. Deal's latest TV ad claims that Handel has supported a group that "promotes homosexuality among teenagers as young as thirteen," while Handel has aired an ad calling Deal "a corrupt relic of Washington."

3. Connecticut Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele's (R) campaign for governor is claiming new momentum in Tuesday's GOP primary, releasing a poll this weekend that shows the race a dead heat.

The poll, from Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, shows Fedele overtaking former Ambassador to Ireland Tom Foley and taking a 28 percent-to-24 percent lead.

A Quinnipiac poll last week showed Fedele closing the gap from 35 points last month to 15 points, but Fedele's camp believes this new poll is a better picture of the race since it allowed for the full effect of his first TV ads.

Fedele's ads have hit Foley for his management of a textile manufacturing company in Georgia that eventually went bankrupt, along with the businessman's arrests decades ago for first-degree attempted assault and breach of peace.

Another Q poll, set to be released tomorrow, should shed some more light on whether or not the momentum has continued into the days leading up to Tuesday's primary.

The new poll for Fedele's campaign shows a very high number of voters (33 percent) are still undecided, suggesting Tuesday's primary is really anybody's ballgame. A third candidate, Oz Griebel, is at 15 percent.

The Democratic primary is very close as well, with the Q poll showing Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy trailing former Senate candidate Ned Lamont 45 percent to 40 percent last week.

4. Former Rep. John Kasich (R) is up with a second TV ad in his race against Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D), a 30-second spot that features Kasich talking about job creation.

"We've lost 400,000 jobs. It's not a statistic. It's people," Kasich says in the ad, addressing a small group of supporters outsider a shuttered DHL hub in the southwest Ohio city of Wilmington. He tells the group that he grew up in a "blue-collar town" where his father worked as a mail carrier.

"My message to people here is, the sun's going to come up again. Together, we push and pull. We can get it done," Kasich concludes.

While the ad marks Kasich's second ad of the race (and his first statewide spot), ads on behalf of both candidates have been airing for months thanks to the nearly $6 million poured into the race by both parties' campaign committees and aligned groups.

Strickland's camp responded to the ad by charging that Kasich "supports outsourcing and unfair trade deals like NAFTA that have shipped hundreds of thousands of Ohio jobs to other countries."

"It is clear that only one candidate in this race can be trusted to create good jobs here in Ohio and it's not the Congressman from Wall Street, John Kasich," Strickland communications director Lis Smith said.

In recent weeks, Kasich has bested Strickland in contributions received -- the former congressman took in $2.26 million over the last seven weeks, compared to about $2 million for his Democratic rival. But Strickland still has a $1.76 million advantage in cash on hand and held a slim 43 percent to 38 percent lead in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, conducted in late June.

5. A new poll of the Rhode Island governor's race shows it's a battle between Democrat Frank Caprio and independent former Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

The Brown University poll shows Caprio, the state's General Treasurer, at 28 percent, while Chafee is at 27 percent.

No Republican is even in even double digits. John Robitaille, a former aide to outoing Gov. Don Carcieri (R), is at 7 percent, while former state Rep. Victor Moffitt is at 2 percent. Of course, only one of the two men will actually be in the general election; but at this point, it doesn't seem to matter which one it is.

Neither GOP candidate has raised significant money for the race, and the one-time Republican Chafee seems to be benefiting from the lack of a qualified alternative from his former party.

In the open seat left by retiring Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), Providence Mayor David Cicilline leads former state Democratic Party Chairman Bill Lynch 32 percent to 15 percent. The sample in that part of the poll is just 174 voters, though, so the margin of error is 7.4 percent.

The primary is Sept. 14.

By Felicia Sonmez  |  August 9, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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