Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Bush Bashing Cuts Both Ways in Ohio Race

Talk with Democratic candidates for Congress across the country, as I do, and you will hear the same two lines of argument about how they are going to win their contests in November.

Both narratives seek to morph November’s elections away from being a referendum on President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.

First, these candidates promise that they will contrast their records and experiences with the views and experiences of their Republican opponents, who, they argue, defend Wall Street and big corporations instead of the average person, opposed health care reform and efforts to stop global warming, and opposed efforts to revive the economy.

The approach relies heavily on “defining” the opponent — whether it’s portraying the Republican as a corrupt Congressional insider, as Missouri Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan does to Rep. Roy Blunt (R), or as a tea-party-backed extremist, as supporters of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) do when they talk about his race against Republican challenger Sharron Angle.

Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan (D) did the same thing when, during a recent interview, he characterized his race against Republican Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania essentially as a messenger of change (Callahan) against a Member of Congress responsible for the nation’s problems (Dent).

This boils down to an effort to “localize” the 2010 midterm elections by making November a choice between candidates rather than a statement on the direction of the country.

Second, Democratic candidates invariably promise to remind voters exactly who got the nation into its economic mess — former President George W. Bush and years of free-spending, regulation-cutting Republican Congresses.

Two Democrats in high-profile Senate races I interviewed earlier this year, New Hampshire Rep. Paul Hodes and Carnahan, repeated this line often and predicted that they will win because voters will remember who is responsible for the nation’s economic problems.

If there is one Republican candidate who would seem to be vulnerable to this one-two combination of punches, it is Ohio Republican Senate hopeful Rob Portman, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under Bush, as Bush’s trade representative and, before that, in Congress.

In bashing Bush, Buckeye State Democrats are scoring points against Portman.

Not everyone, however, is sure whether the Bush strategy will prove effective nationally or even in Ohio.

The Hotline’s Reid Wilson recently looked at a bipartisan NPR survey and concluded that, as a general rule, “Blaming Bush doesn’t work.”

But you need not rely on the NPR survey to conclude that. There is other evidence.

Last fall, New Jersey Democrats tried to shift the focus of the state’s gubernatorial race away from Obama and back to Bush in a state that Sen. John McCain lost by 15 points and Bush lost by 7 points in 2004. But it didn’t work.

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