Still the Dems’ go-to guy

STILL THE DEMS’ GO-TO GUY…. In recent election cycles, Democrats were largely successful in making gains by tying Republicans to George W. Bush. Of course, the former president is no longer on the public stage, but Chris Cillizza reports that Dems hope to keep using Bush anyway.

Dusting off a strategy that proved successful in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Democrats have begun linking Republican candidates in 2010 Senate races to George W. Bush.

But can this work nearly two years after Bush left the White House?

In Ohio, Democrats are attacking former congressman Rob Portman for his past ties to Bush. Portman served in two Cabinet-level posts in the previous administration: U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget. […]

“The Bush trade czar running for the Senate from Ohio is like the captain of the Titanic wanting to be head of the Coast Guard,” said the DSCC’s communications director, Eric Schultz. Switching his metaphors to a different mode of transportation, he added: “When the Edsel bombed, Ford moved on to different models. It may take next November for national Republicans to learn the same lesson.”

Cillizza seems to think this is a flawed strategy. He quotes Mark McKinnon, a former Bush media consultant, saying, “Beating up on Bush is a reflex for Democrats. But running past campaigns is a recipe for failure.”

I’m not unsympathetic to this argument. By the time November 2010 rolls around, the DCCC will be hard pressed to run ads telling voters, “Rep. Doe voted with George W. Bush in 2007 a whopping 90% of the time.”

But it’s worth drawing some distinctions here. Tying “Generic House Republican Backbencher” to Bush in the 2010 midterms might seem like a mistake, but Cillizza points to Rob Portman’s Senate campaign in Ohio as an example, and that’s a different animal.

Portman didn’t just occasionally vote for the Bush agenda in Congress, Portman’s most recent experience in government was serving as Bush’s budget director. Before that, he was Bush’s trade rep, in a state where Bush’s trade policies aren’t exactly popular.

For Democrats to remind Ohio voters of Portman’s role in the administration isn’t “running past campaigns,” it’s just scrutinizing the record of a candidate.