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Democrats see Bush as focus in 2008 Congress races
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush will not be on a ballot in 2008 but Democrats said on Wednesday they plan to make him the centerpiece of their campaign to boost their majorities in Congress.
They argued the prolonged war in Iraq combined with their stalemate with Bush over issues like a plan in Congress to expand child health care coverage make him a good foil to use in the November 2008 election.
"At least in terms of incumbents who supported Bush 90 or 92 or 94 or 96 percent of the time, we believe that will be a very potent issue in 2008," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
One political expert said Democrats used Bush effectively last year to recapture Congress, seizing on his low approval ratings, and they are expected to boost their margins next year.
"It is a little bit of deja vu from 2006 and it's hard to argue with them because it worked," said Jennifer Duffy, an analyst at the Cook Political Report. "Especially on the Senate side ... the environment is still very good for Democrats."
Democrats have a 51-49 majority in the Senate. In the House they have a 233-200 lead and there are two vacancies.
In 2008 Republicans must defend 22 seats in the Senate compared to 12 for Democrats. In the House, where all 435 seats are up, Republicans have seen 14 members decide against running for re-election or are pursuing other offices compared to at least three Democrats.
"People recognize that the Bush administration is very unpopular for standing in the way of change," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "George Bush and his legacy will be on the ballot in 2008."
However, Republicans said the picture was not all rosy for Democrats, pointing to a Massachusetts special election earlier this month in which a Democrat barely edged out the Republican in a congressional district that has been held by Democrats for 35 years.
"Presidential elections are prospective in nature and the Democrat-led Congress has already proven that they are incapable of delivering on a single campaign promise," said Ken Spain, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Still, as expected, Schumer predicted Democrats would hold their seats next year. Analysts have said the most vulnerable Democrats are Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a state that just elected a Republican governor, and South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage.
He pointed to Republicans they believe were vulnerable in Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota and a chance to gain open seats in New Mexico, Virginia and Colorado that Republicans now hold.
A new survey released by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that Democrats fared better among Americans, with 48 percent believing they could bring needed change compared to 26 percent for Republicans.
Both Schumer and Van Hollen acknowledged that there was a long time before the 2008 election but they felt good about their prospects. "We are feeling that the wind is at our back," Schumer said.
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