Democrats (Still) Campaigning on Bush

President Bush, it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving: Democrats are still campaigning on his unpopularity a year and a half after Bush flew away in a helicopter, Obama supporters shaking their fists at him from the National Mall as the new president took his place.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is asking Republican Senate candidates, via their press shop, to list two ways in which they differ from Bush's economic policies. The question-posing itself does not strike me as terribly impactful unless Democratic Senate candidates pick up on the DSCC's cues, but it's a strategy that may work: a Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll of competitive House districts, conducted for NPR in June, found that in Democratic- and Republican-held districts alike, people hold Bush more accountable for the nation's economic problems than Obama, by a margin of 10 to 15 percentage points.

Bush's tenure may seem like the distant past, and people are starting to wonder how long Democrats can run against him. MSNBC's Chuck Todd notably asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in an early-June interview, when the Bush angle will "run out" for Democrats. Pelosi, seeming mildly perturbed that Todd would ask such a question, and having forged her power and identity as Speaker by waging partisan war against Bush for two years, said that "it burns out when the problems go away."

Since President Obama took office, he and the rest of his party have time and again reminded everyone that he "inherited" the nation's economic problems. That's a defensive form of the statement the DSCC is making by accusing Republican candidates of being the same as the unpopular Bush, specifically on the economy.

Actually, much has changed in the Republican Party's economic philosophy since Bush left office, so there are some candidates who could answer the DSCC's question with ease. Ironically, the DSCC's question might be one that resonates more with fiscal conservatives, who have come to oppose Bush's spending and the TARP bailout, than with Democrats. We've already seen candidates (Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Bob Inglis) lose primaries in part because they followed Bush-era fiscal policies.

Challengers who weren't in Congress in 2008 didn't have to vote on TARP, but when Henry Paulson and the Bush administration told Congress they had to vote for it or the sky would fall on their heads, most did. Mark Kirk (IL), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC), and Roy Blunt (MO) all voted for it. Sharron Angle and Mike Lee, meanwhile, don't have to worry about Bush. Others might.