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Bush role in McCain campaign to fade away

But the president is still trying to unite the Republican Party.

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As a Sept. 3 message memo from the Barack Obama campaign noted gleefully, in many polls majorities of respondents have expressed concern that McCain would pursue policies too close to those of Bush.

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Tighter-fisted than Bush?

McCain backers have similar concerns, and they even express them publicly. Discussing possible McCain policies at a Monitor lunch in St. Paul on Sept. 1, campaign economics adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said that when it comes to balancing the budget, the Arizona senator wants to skip the Bush years and return to the era of Clinton.

In the mid- to late-1990s, there was more scrutiny of Washington’s appropriations, due to cooperation between Clinton and a GOP-controlled Congress, said Mr. Holtz-Eakin.
“Spending was controlled in a way that has not been the case since Bush took office,” said the McCain adviser.

In this context, hurricane Gustav produced one positive effect, at least, for the GOP convention. It allowed the McCain forces to limit Bush’s appearance to a brief off-site video as they attempt to turn the page and take attention off the current administration.

Bush, in turn, talked little about his own legacy. Instead he focused on McCain, too, at one point even saying that if the North Vietnamese did not break McCain when he was a prisoner of war, “you can be sure the angry left never will.”

The speech may have fit well into McCain’s effort in essence to continue Bush’s Iraq policies – but without claiming Bush’s mantle.

“It’s a delicate strategy,” notes Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.

Bush’s legacy is at stake in the coming vote, says Ms. Bose. If McCain wins, GOP control of the White House will extend to 12 years.

In the modern era, “it’s very unusual for a party to keep power that long, due to the cyclical nature of politics,” she says.

Candidates and other incumbents

McCain is not the only recent candidate who has had to strike a difficult balance in regard to an incumbent predecessor. In 1968, Democratic nominee and sitting Vice President Hubert Humphrey found that President Lyndon Johnson was a millstone around his neck, due to Johnson’s association with the Vietnam War.

In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower was eager to participate in the campaign of his vice president, Richard Nixon, according to Hess, of Brookings.

Yet the call for extensive help never came.

“Nixon wanted to show that he could do it on his own,” says Hess, a former Eisenhower administration staffer.