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Bush is not as popular in Alabama today as Wallace ever was

An interesting question, which will be answered later this year, is whether the winner of the Republican Primary will ask for an endorsement or campaign help from President George W. Bush.

Even though Bush won Alabama by a double digit margin in his reelection bid in 2004, his popularity has diminished significantly in the past six months. The war in Iraq is the primary impetus for Bush’s unpopularity. Polling reveals that voters nationwide believe he was not completely forthcoming with all the facts when we entered the costly invasion of the Middle East country. His approval ratings are in the 30% range, among the lowest in Presidential history. The numbers for his Vice President, Dick Cheney, are even lower. Most people perceive Cheney as a mean spirited pawn of big oil and especially his former company Halliburton, which has received most of the no bid contracts to rebuild Iraq.

In the recent Virginia Governor’s race the Republican candidate for Governor took a gamble and asked the President to make a campaign appearance with him the night before the election. He lost the next day to the Democrat in a state considered as conservative and Republican leaning as Alabama in Presidential elections. In fact, Bush carried Virginia with the same margin as Alabama in 2004. Bush’s popularity could pick up by year end. His numbers a year prior to reelection were bad and he came back to win with the help of his political genius, Karl Rove. However, Rove is under federal indictment for possible CIA leaks.

Incumbent, Gov. Bob Riley, would be able to muster a strong show of support from Bush. He is good friends with the President. A friendship built during Riley’s six years in Congress. Roy Moore does not appear to have that kind of closeness to the White House.

Second term Presidents are no strangers to sinking poll numbers or scandal. Clinton had the same spiral in popularity, especially after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Reagan also faltered after Iran Contra, but bounced back, and of course Nixon’s second term was destroyed by Watergate. In fact, historically the Party which has the White House for a second term has lost Congressional seats in the following midterm elections. Therefore, if history prevails the Republicans will lose seats to the Democrats this year. However, historically Alabamians have not followed the nationwide pattern. In Alabama we seem to elect our Governor based on who we want for Governor. The decision is based more on personal choice rather than party. We seem to toss the Party label aside in gubernatorial years.

In addition, Alabamians resent someone endorsing a candidate in the Governor’s race. They figure that it is none of their business and they should mind their own business. Even in George Wallace’s heyday, when he was at the zenith of his popularity, he could not transfer his popularity to other candidates via his endorsement.

It would be safe to say that George W. Bush is not as popular today, nor ever has been as popular politically, as George Wallace was in Alabama in the 1960’s. I do not believe there are any coattails to George Bush as a lame duck President. My perception is that if Riley is the Republican nominee for Governor, an endorsement from President Bush would backfire.

See you next week.

-Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 66 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.