Skip to comments.Bush is still hot at home, so candidates are hitching a ride
Posted on 08/10/2002 3:40:56 PM PDT by MeekOneGOP
Bush is still hot at home, so candidates are hitching a ride
But some call vote-getting tactic risky
Deep in the heart of the Texas ballot, GOP state House hopeful Byron Cook of Corsicana uses his Web site to tell voters how he helped President Bush find his Crawford ranch.
In Travis County, Republican state Senate candidate Ben Bentzin notes in his promotional material that he served on the advisory committee of Laura Bush's Texas Book Festival.
And Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Cathy Cochran features on her political Web page an all-smiles picture of her and the president and a letter from Mr. Bush in which he praises her service, dedication and leadership.
Across the state, from the top campaigns to the lowest of low-profile races, Republicans are seeking to grab voter attention with pictures, quotes and resumes that list any connection they may have to a president who remains widely popular in his home state.
"It's a universal wonder if a Republican candidate doesn't have a picture of themselves with George W. Bush," said GOP political consultant Royal Masset of Austin, who is not involved in the statewide races. "If they don't have one, you almost stop to wonder why."
Although experts say they are not surprised that Texas Republicans and even the Democratic nominee for governor are trying to score political points by latching on to the Bush image, many doubt that the president's coattails alone can help carry them to victory in November, especially when he isn't on the ticket.
Also, candidates hoping to gain from Mr. Bush's star power may fall short because the president's job approval ratings have fallen recently amid concerns over the sluggish economy and corporate abuse. Some Republicans nationally already have sought to distance themselves from the president, but that is less evident in Texas.
"I'm convicted of the allegation that I want to be close to the president," said Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, a Republican running for re-election this fall. Mr. Bush named him to the commission in 1998.
He and others interviewed about their pro-Bush efforts stressed that they are focusing their campaigns on the issues but said that voters need reminders of their political allegiance.
"It's important to give voters an idea of the company we keep," Mr. Williams said.
His Democratic challenger, Austin lawyer Sherry Boyles, said that tactic could backfire.
"Bush is not on the ballot, and Texans really do look at ideas. It's not enough to say who you are friends with," she said.
Some analysts said office-seekers sometimes can benefit from a higher-profile candidate's coattails, such as when voters punch a straight party ticket based on the strength of a leading contender. But the party of the president historically loses support in Congress during a mid-term election, even with extremely popular presidents.
"Very few Texans go into the voting booth, close the curtain and think, 'What would George want me to do?' " said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.
Despite Republican dominance in Texas the GOP holds all statewide offices Democrats insist that Texas voters are independent-minded and ignore party politics.
"Texans are very independent and vote across the ballot all the time," said Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
Strategists also warn that Mr. Bush recently accused by Democrats and some in his own party for doing too little in response to corporate misdeeds may not provide the boost that some are seeking.
"The next 60 to 120 days look troubling and could prove a complicated political minefield for the president," said Jeff Montgomery, a Democratic consultant in Austin. "On the other hand, in the state of Texas, his numbers will continue to remain good."
Chuck McDonald, another Austin political consultant who worked for former Democratic Gov. Ann Richards, agreed. "President Bush is kind of like a homecoming queen. Everyone wants a picture," he said.
Even some Republicans say candidates need to be careful how they tie themselves to the White House.
"If Mr. Bush and then Republicans in general are linked to the decline in the stock market and the Republicans get blamed, it's going to hurt," Mr. Masset said.
The Texas Republican Party encourages candidates to emphasize Mr. Bush's leadership.
"We advise our candidates to certainly express support for George W. Bush and talk openly about any work they may have done for him in the past and any support they may have received from him," said Ted Royer, a state GOP spokesman.
He added that even with a strong president, local issues and individual personalities play an important role in voter decisions.
"Being associated with the president is not enough to win any election," Mr. Royer said.
Bush in the picture
At the top of the GOP ticket, Senate nominee John Cornyn and Gov. Rick Perry already have enjoyed separate fund-raisers in Texas with Mr. Bush as the headliner.
Mr. Cornyn, the state attorney general who faces Democrat Ron Kirk, has campaigned on the theme that voters need to send him to Washington to help push the Bush agenda. The first Cornyn TV ad, which began airing this month, pictures the candidate with Mr. Bush.
The former governor also is seen standing with Mr. Perry in a recent Perry TV ad that touts their work cutting taxes. As the lieutenant governor elected in 1998, Mr. Perry automatically assumed the top job when Mr. Bush became president.
Even Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez has used Mr. Bush's photo in a TV spot that notes Mr. Bush named him to the University of Texas Board of Regents and once called Mr. Sanchez a "great Texan."
Mr. Sanchez, a Laredo businessman who was one of Mr. Bush's biggest contributors in the presidential contest, says in another ad that he will emulate Mr. Bush by reaching "across party lines to get things done" in the Legislature.
Mr. Kirk, the former Dallas mayor who has not yet aired any general election commercials, said he voted for Democrat Al Gore in the last presidential election but has great admiration for Mr. Bush.
Although many of the statewide Republican candidates have cited Bush links and endorsements in their campaign material, GOP lieutenant governor candidate David Dewhurst has no mention of the president on his Web site.
"David Dewhurst is a strong enough candidate on his own," said Nick Voinis, his spokesman. "But Mr. Dewhurst sees himself as a Bush Republican and is enthusiastic about this in his campaign."
Mr. Dewhurst, the state land commissioner, faces Democrat John Sharp, the former comptroller.
Bush in their court
Six Republican candidates for the state Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals have political Web pages and four feature references to being Bush appointees or include pictures with Mr. Bush.
Republican Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips' site displays a shot of him swearing in Mr. Bush as governor at the Capitol.
Justice Phillips' campaign manager, George Hittner, said that the ties to Mr. Bush are personal, not political. "Justice Phillips' credibility is important, not his friendship with Mr. Bush," Mr. Hittner said.
His Democratic opponent, attorney Richard Baker of Liberty, said he believes that the Republican needs to show an association with Mr. Bush because he "is not convinced of his own record."
Judge Cochran of the appeals court defended using Mr. Bush's image on her Web site, which says she helped fashion some criminal justice policy when he was governor.
"I want people to know that I was a valued and trusted adviser to the governor," Judge Cochran said. "I hope the [picture] would stick in people's heads."
Her opponent, J.R. Molina, a Fort Worth lawyer, said Judge Cochran's strategy won't work. "She's only going to impress the Republicans who would vote for her anyway," he said.
And Laura Bush too
A review of other sites found examples of candidates running alongside Mr. Bush's image in campaigns for Congress, state Legislature and the state Board of Education:
House candidate Jeb Hensarling, a Republican businessman running in the 5th District in Dallas, has a large picture of himself and his wife with George W. and Laura Bush and a quote from Mr. Bush that says: " Jeb's a committed conservative and a man of integrity."
Democratic opponent Ron Chapman, a visiting state district judge, said he also supports Mr. Bush but "believes it's important for candidates to stand on own accomplishments."
Ramsey Farley, a retired businessman running for Congress in Central Texas, a district that includes the Bush ranch, also is banking on the president's popularity. His Web site says, "Show our President, George Bush that he's your pitcher and send the left-wingers back to the dugouts."
Incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, said the Farley slogans won't make any difference. "People vote for candidates and not so much on coattails," he said.
Mr. Bentzin, the Austin businessman and state Senate candidate who lists his service on Mrs. Bush's book festival, is not trying to capitalize on the Bush name for political purposes, said his campaign manager, Mike Walz. "But if people construe it that way, well, I have no opinion," Mr. Walz said.
The Democrat, Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin, said voters know better. "The first lady isn't running for state senator," Mr. Barrientos said. "She's a thousand miles away."
This is the sort of thing which is wrong with our POTUS, I'm afraid.
Tony Sanchez is not a great Texan--and never was. (Being a successful businessman and politico does not make a man a great Texan.)
Wouldn't it be funny if he did? The press wouldn't know what to do with themselves (maybe they'd self-destruct). ~Pray~
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