Dems try to link the GOP to Bush, but voters aren’t buying it

Holly Bailey
The Upshot

George W. Bush left office nearly two years ago, but he's been front and center on the campaign trail ahead of the 2010 midterms.

In recent weeks, Democrats have framed their push to fend off a GOP takeover of Congress by arguing that a vote for the Republicans this fall essentially means a return to Bush-era policies. "They don't have a single idea that's different from George W. Bush's ideas. Not one," President Obama said during a fundraising swing in Atlanta on Monday.

It's no mystery why Democrats want to make Bush the bogeyman ahead of November. Polls show voters continue to blame him more than Obama for the nation's problems, including the dismal economy. By invoking Bush, Democrats are hoping to stir up the millions of voters who came out to support Obama as an agent of change back in 2008.

But there's a problem with the Democrats' strategy: Voters, so far, aren't buying the argument.

As the Hotline's Reid Wilson first reported, the liberal group Third Way has been circulating among top Democrats a poll it conducted that finds a majority of Americans don't see a vote for the GOP this fall as a return to Bush policies. According to the poll, 65 percent of those surveyed believe the GOP Congress would promote "a new economic agenda that is different" from the Bush era.

In fact, Democrats haven't even sold their own party on the claim. According to the poll, just 32 percent of Democrats believe the GOP will return to Bush's agenda. Among independents, the voting bloc that will likely determine the election, that margin is just 22 percent.

The poll also offers some mixed messages for Obama's handling of the economy and how that might play in November. A slight majority, 51 percent, says they would support a candidate this November "who says President Obama's economic plan is not working," while 64 percent say they want a candidate who will  "start from scratch" with ideas on how to shrink the federal deficit. Yet when the idea of going back to Bush policies is thrown into the mix, 49 percent say they would support a candidate who promises to stick with Obama's plan.

In other words, Democrats have an opening by linking the GOP with Bush, but their framing, so far, just isn't working.  Republicans aren't likely to offer any help here: The GOP is keeping its focus strictly on Obama and playing to voters' concerns about his policies — not the 43rd president's.