On his way back from Panama last night, George W. Bush stopped in Richmond, Va., to campaign on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore. Kilgore steered clear of Bush when the president visited Virginia just a week ago. Why did Bush make the stop after the snub? The White House figures that if the governor's race is going to be a referendum on the president anyway, he may as well do what he can to win it.
"They're going to own the results either way, so why not land the plane?" Republican strategist Scott Reed tells the Washington Post. "If Kilgore wins, the president's political heart keeps beating." And if he doesn't win, we might add, the president's woes can't really get a lot worse than they are.
As voters head to the polls today in off-off-year elections scattered across the country, Bush isn't on the ballot anywhere, and yet the case will be made that he's on the ballot everywhere. It's probably a fair characterization in Virginia. The commonwealth cast its Electoral College votes for Bush in both 2000 and 2004. And while the state already has a Democratic governor in potential 2008 presidential candidate Mark Warner, another Democratic victory there would be seen as one more embarrassment for a president who has suffered plenty of them of late.
The Bush factor may be less important in New Jersey, a blue state where Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine was leading Republican Douglas Forrester in Election Eve polls. Bush isn't particularly popular in the Garden State, but charges of extramarital affairs by both candidates have dominated the final days of the campaign there.
In New York, the outcome of the mayor's race has been a foregone conclusion for so long that a victory by Republican incumbent Michael Bloomberg shouldn't be seen as a statement about Bush either way. And in California, the candidate not on the ballot who's really on the ballot isn't the president but the governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who was too busy to appear with Bush when the president visited Southern California last month -- has pushed hard for four ballot initiatives he says are necessary to shake up the way the state operates. The latest polls have all four headed for defeat, which would represent a cataclysmic reversal of fortune for a governor who was -- and doesn't this sound familiar? -- widely popular with voters just two years ago.