Though some Republicans are easing away from a lame duck, the president is still a valuable fundraiser.
WASHINGTON - Even before President Bush touches down in the Twin Cities on Tuesday to raise money for Sen. Norm Coleman, some Minnesota Republicans seem ready to wave goodbye to the president.
Keenly aware of Bush's sagging poll numbers -- and the obvious Democratic strategy of stitching GOP candidates like Coleman as tightly as possible to the White House -- Republican strategists are pronouncing the lame-duck president a non-issue in next year's Senate race.
"We're entering into a post-Bush world," said Mark Drake, a spokesman for the Minnesota Republican Party, "whether the Democrats like it or not."
No doubt Democrats will attempt to keep the Bush era front and center. And for now, Coleman supporters feel compelled to walk a familiar tightrope -- cashing in on the president's fundraising prowess while defining their candidate as an independent thinker focused on getting practical results for Minnesota.
"At times that's meant standing up, agreeing and supporting where the president is, and at other times disagreeing and working with ... colleagues to bring people together and make progress," said Coleman's campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan.
Republicans frequently cite Coleman's breaks from Bush on immigration and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And while he supported the war in Iraq, Coleman has criticized parts of the White House strategy there.
Voting record will be focus
But Democrats, eager to portray Coleman as a product of the Bush White House that recruited him to run for the Senate in 2002, are unlikely to alter their focus on a voting record that has been largely in sync with Bush, particularly on the war.
And having them together on the same stage in Minnesota can only make that easier.
"We hope this isn't the only presidential visit of the campaign," said Leslie Sandberg, a spokeswoman for trial lawyer Mike Ciresi, who is vying with comedian Al Franken for the DFL endorsement in the Senate race. "He'd like to see Norm next to George Bush every single day."
Regular photo ops with Coleman at Bush's side aren't likely. It's not even certain that the Democrats will get the camera angle they seek a year from now at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. While most departing presidents of modern times have attended their party's convention and been lavishly saluted there, Matt Burns, a spokesman for the Republican Convention, said Bush's involvement "has not been determined."
But whether or not Coleman finds himself sharing the Xcel Energy Center stage with the president in September 2008 -- eight weeks before the election -- Democrats already have the headlines they want, said GOP political strategist Sarah Janacek, publisher of Politics in Minnesota.
Taking the cash, and the hit
Coleman's best option, according to Janacek and other Republican strategists, is to take the money and absorb the early PR hit now. By this time next year, they say, the party will have a new titular head: whoever emerges as the GOP candidate for the presidency.
"George Bush becomes a bit player in '08," Janacek said. "It ain't about him anymore."
But the Democrats' script envisions a bigger role for Bush.
"Norm Coleman has spent five years bragging about his close relationship with Bush, and voters aren't going to forget that just because he wants them to in an election year," said Matt Miller, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
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