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Democrats bash Bush drum, Republicans avoid him
San Francisco | October 27, 2006 9:15:06 AM IST
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With President George W. Bush's approval ratings in the mid to high 30th percentile and the situation in Iraq worsening by the day, analysts are hardly surprised that Democrats are relentlessly bashing the Bush drum while Republicans are running away from the leader of the free world.

In normal times, when the US president and the leader of your party is touring your backyard, you drop your other plans and meet the guy.

So where was California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in early October when Bush flew in for a rare visit to the state capital of Sacramento to stump for one of the few Republican candidates in the state?

The politically-astute "governator" was hundreds of kilometres away in Los Angeles doing some of his own election campaigning and trying to stay as far away as possible from a party leader increasingly weighed down by violence in Iraq.

Asked about the presidential snub, Schwarzenegger barely tried to soften the insult.

"President Bush is coming out here not to help California, but to do fundraising in California, so there's no reason for me to meet with him," he said.

Later, he was even blunter, though he delivered the lines with the self-deprecating humour that has become one of his most potent electoral weapons.

"To link me to George Bush is like linking me to an Oscar," the former bodybuilder and Hollywood action star joked during an appearance on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "That's ridiculous."

The pointed barbs were in marked contrast to Schwarzenegger's actions in the 2004 elections when he was a keynote speaker at the Republican convention and travelled to the swing state of Ohio to chant from the podium at the top of his voice "George W. Bush! George W. Bush!"

Now Schwarzenegger's opponent Phil Angelides is using that campaign footage in TV ads to tie Schwarzenegger to the unpopular president. He is having a tough time, however, because Schwarzenegger's policies on the environment, stem cell research and other initiatives are so sharply at odds with those of Bush.

But in other political races, Democrats are using the same tactics to much greater effect while Republican candidates are doing what they can to distance themselves from the man some are calling "the radioactive president".

Thus in Virginia, Democrat Jim Webb charged that Republican Senator George Allen is little more that a Bush yes-man.

"People are looking for someone who has the courage to stand up to power when power is being used wrongly," says Webb in one TV ad.

In other races, Republican candidates proudly tout their opposition to Bush and the other unpopular Republican bigwigs like Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I've gone against the president and the Republican leadership when I think they're wrong," says Representative Christopher Shays in a Connecticut TV ad.

"It's a simple matter of Bush's unpopularity," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Centre for Politics, told NBC news.

"He's low enough in the polls so that he's a minus at the polls for Republicans for Senate and House and governor. So they put him at arm's length."

"You have to be careful where you take him," a Republican campaign manager confided to NBC, explaining that in close races Bush's presence is a negative factor, but that in staunchly conservative districts he can help rally the base and raise funds. This year alone Bush has pulled in some $200 million for Republicans, the centre-right party says.

A confident Bush on Wednesday insisted the Republicans will sweep the elections, and laughed off a question about his growing pariah effect on Republican candidates.

"No, I'm not (resentful,)" he joked. "Nor am I resentful that a lot of Democrats ... are using my picture. All I ask is that they pick out a good one."

But overall there's little doubt on either side of the political divide that putting the focus on Bush is a massive boon for the long-suffering Democrats.




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