Meet a Rare Republican Candidate Touting His Connections to George W. Bush

WASHINGTON - MARCH 28: U.S. President George W. Bush (L) is joined by White House Counselor Ed Gillespie while walking across the South Lawn of the White House March 28, 2008 in Washington, DC. Bush is taking a day trip to New Jersey to talk about the housing crisis and what his administration is doing to try and stem the economy's slide into recession.
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Julie Sobel
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Julie Sobel
Jan. 17, 2014, 8:48 a.m.

Ed Gillespie made his of­fi­cial en­trance in­to Vir­gin­ia’s Sen­ate race Thursday with a well-pro­duced video that mainly served up stand­ard Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign fare: in­tro­du­cing a good-look­ing fam­ily, telling an up-by-the-boot­straps per­son­al story, and slam­ming an op­pon­ent for cast­ing “the de­cid­ing vote” on Obama­care and vot­ing for new taxes. But one as­pect of the video is un­usu­al for GOP can­did­ates in re­cent years: The spot fea­tures prom­in­ent pho­tos of the can­did­ate with George W. Bush. Re­pub­lic­ans have shied away from tout­ing a re­la­tion­ship with the former pres­id­ent in cam­paigns since Bush left of­fice in 2008.

The former Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee chair­man, launch­ing a chal­lenge to pop­u­lar Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Warner, notes early in the video that he helped pay for col­lege with a job as a U.S. Sen­ate park­ing lot at­tend­ant. “Over the years, with lots of people’s help and ad­vice, I rose from that park­ing lot to the West Wing, serving as coun­sel for the pres­id­ent of the United States,” says Gillespie, as two pho­tos of him with Bush flash across the screen.

Gillespie isn’t the first can­did­ate to in­voke the pres­id­ent in a pos­it­ive way in a cam­paign ad: Vir­gin­ia’s oth­er sen­at­or, Tim Kaine — who pre­vi­ously chaired the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee did so last cycle. In an ad that aired in Septem­ber 2012, he men­tioned work­ing with the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion as a pic­ture of the two to­geth­er ap­peared on­screen, and de­clared to the cam­era that “as your sen­at­or, I’ll part­ner with who­ever’s pres­id­ent of the United States to do what’s right for Vir­gin­ia.”

But this cir­cum­stance is dif­fer­ent than a Demo­crat in­vok­ing the former pres­id­ent to show he’ll reach across the aisle in the Sen­ate. So why would this GOP can­did­ate be play­ing up his re­la­tion­ship with Bush in his in­tro­duc­tion to voters?

First, when it comes to former pres­id­ents, dis­tance makes the heart grow fonder — and Bush is no ex­cep­tion. The 43rd pres­id­ent is not nearly as un­pop­u­lar now as he was when he left of­fice: By last year, his num­bers had re­boun­ded to near the 50 per­cent mark.

Second, it would be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for Gillespie to tell his life story without men­tion­ing his work for the pres­id­ent. Serving as a seni­or ad­viser in the West Wing is a high­light of his ca­reer, not something he could po­ten­tially down­play if he wanted to.

And third, the Bush as­so­ci­ation is likely less dam­aging to his pro­spects than an­oth­er as­pect to his ca­reer (which he did not men­tion in the video): lob­by­ing. Demo­crats have already made it clear they in­tend to pound Gillespie for his work as a lob­by­ist. The Demo­crat­ic Sen­at­ori­al Cam­paign Com­mit­tee routinely refers to Gillespie as “lob­by­ist” or “D.C. lob­by­ist” — and their state­ment on Gillespie’s en­trance in­to the race Thursday men­tions his work for the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion once, but re­peatedly slams his lob­by­ing back­ground and char­ac­ter­izes him as a “ca­reer lob­by­ist with a par­tis­an his­tory of slash-and-burn polit­ics.”

Still, des­pite those factors, don’t count on see­ing Bush on the cam­paign trail any­time soon in purple Vir­gin­ia.

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