With President George W. Bush's latest approval rating in Arkansas at 35 percent (63 percent of Arkansans disapprove of his performance), how beneficial will his Aug. 30 visit be for gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson?
The latest issue of the New Republic magazine describes the balancing act that many Republican candidates around the nation are facing when it comes to associating with Bush. Like Hutchinson, they need the money that a presidential event can generate, but they hope to avoid the stigma of Bush's overwhelming unpopularity.
Dissing Bush can be trickier than it might seem at first. There is, after all, the little matter of fund-raising, where the president, despite his sagging popularity, is still the party heavyweight. The trick for vulnerable GOP candidates is to somehow get Bush money without being in any way associated with Bush or the other radioactive members of his administration--a predicament that is tying Republicans into pretzels from coast to coast. The most common maneuver is for candidates to invent excuses to arrive late at their own fundraisers--or not at all. In March, New Jersey Senate candidate Tom Kean conveniently showed up at a buck-raking event in Newark just moments after the vice president had departed. His explanation? He was stuck in traffic. ...
But no good trick lasts forever. Skipping out on fundraisers when Bush is in town became a common enough practice that Democrats started pointing out the ploy in local media outlets, making it more trouble than it was worth. The solution some candidates have landed on is to endure the shame of sharing a stage with the president of the United States and, after he leaves, to criticize him subtly but pointedly. House candidates Rick O'Donnell of Colorado and Heather Wilson of New Mexico have taken this course, smiling alongside Bush as he collects campaign checks for them one day and running ads trumpeting their willingness to defy Republican leaders in Washington the next.
For some, the best approach may be simply to ask Bush to stay away. When the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently unearthed the fact that Bush would be raising dough for David Reichert, who represents an increasingly Democratic district in Washington state, the news generated a wave of negative coverage about his coziness with the White House. When Reichert joined the pariah-in-chief at the event anyway, it seemed to do him more harm than good: The visit pumped anti-Bush money into the coffers of his opponent, who ended up out-raising him for the quarter. Indeed, the event provided so much fodder to tie Reichert to Bush that it's widely seen as the reason Reichert reversed his position on stem-cell research last month.