Democrats Could Lose Powerful Anti-Bush Message – WSJ.com

WASHINGTON—Democrats are working hard these days to tell voters that the nation’s economic problems were created by President George W. Bush. But that line of attack—which has buoyed the party significantly over the past four years—may be losing its edge.

In a string of recent elections, Democrats have tried to paint Republicans as Bush acolytes ready to lead a revival of his policies. One widely aired television ad in the recent Massachusetts Senate race showed a picture of Republican Scott Brown, and then shots of former President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Brown won anyway.

The results suggest voters are beginning to worry less about what Mr. Bush did, and more about what President Barack Obama will do to dig the economy out.

Indeed, most polls suggest there is little debate about which president should be blamed. In the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, 65% of voters agreed Mr. Obama had inherited the nation’s economic problems. But by a 49% to 43% margin, voters also said they disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy, underscoring how they have shifted responsibility for the issue to the Democratic president.

Mr. and Ms. Bush waved as they departed Washington last January.

The changing dynamics could deny Democrats a powerful message in this year’s midterm elections and lighten a yoke that has weighed on Republicans since they lost control of Congress in 2006.

Some Democrats are beginning to acknowledge that invoking the Bush name might not be effective anymore. It has “lost any relevancy and therefore any potency,” said Paul Begala, a longtime adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.), who is running Democrats’ re-election efforts in the Senate, said the party instead wants to focus on Mr. Bush’s record, if not his name. “I don’t think this is about using George Bush as a bogeyman, but about Republicans owning up to their embrace of the economic policies that got us in this mess in the first place,” he said.

Republicans, for their part, are saying it is time to move on. “The American people aren’t waking up in the morning and blaming George Bush,” said Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican whip.

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