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October 25, 2006
Misunderestimated, Again

The conventional wisdom of these midterms casts George Bush as Kryptonite to Republicans in close races, with candidates practically stumbling over themselves to achieve maximum distance from the President. The New York Times reports that conventional wisdom seems to have misunderestimated Bush again, even in a slanted news piece that offers an analysis that it proves wrong after the jump:

President Bush cannot show up just anywhere in the waning days of this midterm campaign. But there is a certain class of Republicans who are somewhere between eager and willing to have him at their sides.

There are those facing ethical questions or struggling to recover from gaffes. There are those desperate for the cash Mr. Bush can bring in just by showing up for lunch. There are those who need the president to turn out a demoralized base. And there are those who, like Vern Buchanan, the Republican candidate for the House here, are a little bit of all three. ...

“The Democrats have made a lot of predictions.” Mr. Bush told cheering supporters who had gathered in a cavernous warehouse-turned-convention-hall, where tickets to hear him could be had as cheaply as $20. “Matter of fact, I think they may be measuring the drapes. If their electoral predictions are as reliable as their economic predictions, Nov. 7 is going to be a good day for the Republicans.”

The appearance, which Republican officials said raised $375,000, offers a hint of how White House strategists will use Mr. Bush in the final two weeks of the midterm campaign. With his public approval ratings hovering around 37 percent, Democrats making effective use of advertisements attacking the president and Republicans in many races distancing themselves from him, Mr. Bush is far more limited than he was four years ago in where he can appear. ...

White House strategists are sending Mr. Bush to Republican-leaning districts like Sarasota, where he can help energize the base and increase voter turnout. The president will also appear in swing districts where the Republican candidate has calculated that the last-minute infusion of cash he can bring in is worth more than any bad publicity surrounding the visit.

The basic premise of the TImes is that Bush will only go to where his presence can't do any more damage to electoral hopes of floundering Republicans. A president appearance, according to Sheryl Gay Stolberg, amounts to something of the last gasp for desperate candidates. It once again paints Bush as an enormous liability, a theme we saw in 2004 and one proven wrong by the results, where the GOP widened its Senate majority considerably. It also serves as an excuse to provide an omnibus scandal sheet of various accusations against Republicans around the nation, as the desperation theme gets tied to these allegations rather neatly.

Stolberg undermines her own thesis, although readers have to press several paragraphs into the piece to figure that out. First, Bush has raised a lot of money in the areas where he has campaigned; the Sarasota visit raised $375,000 for a Congressional campaign, a rather impressive showing; the average cost of an entire Congressional campaign hovers around $2 million as of 2004. Bush raised 20% of that in one showing. He has also campaigned for George Allen, who now leads James Webb, as well as incumbents likely to win re-election such as Richard Pombo in California -- hardly a place where a Republican albatross would show up.

Once again, Bush seems to have confounded political analysts. In 2002, pundits expressed surprise that Bush would risk his standing as President by campaigning in a midterm election the Republicans were sure to lose. He went full throttle on campaign mode for that election, and voters rewarded him with clear control of the Senate and a wider margin in the House. In 2004, analysts were certain that Bush would lose in the middle of an unpopular war and were proven wrong once again, although in their defense no one expected the Democrats to pick such a poor challenger as John Kerry.

Mike Bouchard will welcome the President to Michigan tomorrow in another race that has grown closer in recent days, with Bouchard only a few points out from unseating the Democratic incumbent. Sheriff Bouchard has no qualms about appearing with George Bush in a state known for its center-left politics. I suspect that he has decided not to take political advice from the New York Times.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 25, 2006 5:13 AM

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