Bush Plays Key Role in Govs' Races
By Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer
President George W. Bush isn't on the ballot in the Nov.7 mid-term elections, but he's still casting a shadow — pro and con — in many of the 36 gubernatorial races.
Democrats also are linking the White House to Republican gubernatorial candidates in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.
At the same time, GOP candidates in Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are appearing with Bush to pad their campaign coffers — gambling that the benefits of extra cash trumps being seen with a president whose approval rating remains below 40 percent nationally. But Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich (R) skipped Bush's Labor Day speech in the state, choosing instead to march in a municipal parade.
Presidents only factor into gubernatorial contests when they are unpopular and that usually plays out during the mid-term elections when the majority of governors are chosen, said Larry Sabato,director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics . The last time the nation's chief executive filled this role was 1994, when President Bill Clinton's popularity was sagging, Sabato said.
In addition to gaining majorities of both chambers of Congress that year, Republicans picked up nine governors' seats — giving them a total of 30 — including a victory by then-gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush who defeated Texas' Democratic Gov. Ann Richards.
Robert Holsworth, political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University , said Democrats are looking at a more recent example: Virginia's 2005 gubernatorial contest, when the president's low poll numbers were a drag on GOP candidate Jerry Kilgore.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine won that election — largely seen as a referendum on his popular predecessor Gov. Mark Warner - and captured several counties that had voted for Bush in 2004.
But it's far from certain that Democrats can make national issues, such as the war in Iraq, drive state and local elections across the country, Holsworth said.
In California, Schwarzenegger is being tied to Bush despite his many differences with the White House, including his support for stem-cell research and his leadership in capping greenhouse gases in the state.
Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party , said linking Schwarzenegger to the president is valid because the governor supported Bush's re-election two years ago.
State Treasurer Phil Angelides, the Democrat hoping to defeat Schwarzenegger in November, has just released a so-called " Bush/Schwarzenegger Index," which his campaign says is meant to show "how middle-class families are doing in California versus big corporate interests."
In other states, Democrats are trying to connect their opponents to unpopular policies that affect the state. Michigan, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) has blamed federal trade policies in Washington, D.C. for the state's lagging economy, said political scientist James Penning of Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Granholm's Republican challenger is businessman Dick DeVos.
Gov. Jim Doyle of Wisconsin (D) is highlighting his $750 million proposal to fund research using embryonic stem cells, while pointing out that his opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R), voted to sustain the president's veto of a federal bill that would have expanded federal support for that science.
Most Republican candidates are not running away from the president. Several, including Green, have appeared with Bush at party fundraisers, where they stand to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Green was honored to have the president's support and Bush's appearance was a "testament to Mr. Green's leadership and his ability to lead the state forward," said campaign spokesman Luke Punzenberger.
Thomas Holbrook, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee , said the president's fundraising help will probably benefit Green who has raised only about one-third of the money that the Democratic incumbent Doyle has raised.
On Wednesday (Aug. 29), former congressman and U.S. Homeland Security official Asa Hutchinson raised an estimated $400,000 at a GOP event with the president — more money than Hutchinson raised in any single month during the campaign, according to The Associated Press. Hutchinson is running for Arkansas' open governor's seat against state Attorney General Mike Beebe (D).
"Certainly, the president always can be important in terms of fundraising," Holsworth said.
Other gubernatorial candidates who have benefited from Bush's fundraising prowess include: Pennsylvania Republican Lynn Swann who is seeking to upset Gov. Ed Rendell's re-election; Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (R) who is running against U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland; and Illinois State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka (R) who is trying to defeat Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).