updated 10/2/2006 10:05:09 AM ET 2006-10-02T14:05:09

Some say this is supposed to be the year President Bush and his flagging popularity bring down Republicans across the country.

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But here in California, where Bush's popularity is at an all-time low, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn't appear to be suffering, even as his Democratic rival tries to tie him to the president.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides' attempts to discredit the governor in the eyes of Democratic voters who might be tempted to cross party lines have been largely drowned out by an outbreak of harmony.

Eluding the comparison
Schwarzenegger has spent much of this year eluding the Bush comparison, publicly disagreeing with the president on issues from border patrols to stem cell research to global warming.

Schwarzenegger has also kept a distance from Bush since they met last spring in Silicon Valley. Bush will be in California on Tuesday to raise money for two Republican congressmen, but Schwarzenegger will not appear with him.

2006 key races

Instead, the governor will be campaigning - with Democrats - for infrastructure bonds on the November ballot.

The Democratic Party is reminding voters in a television commercial on the air for the past three weeks that Schwarzenegger campaigned for Bush in the closing days of the 2004 campaign in Ohio. The idea that the governor helped to get him re-elected disconcerts some voters, particularly those confused by the governor's changing political persona.

Comparison not working
Recent polling suggests the Bush comparison is not working. Since the Democratic Party began running its ads, the nonpartisan Field Poll found Schwarzenegger has increased his lead slightly from 8 points to 10 points. The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found Schwarzenegger's lead grew from 13 points to 17.

Designer Kay Waldman, a Democrat from Malibu who said she detests Bush but likes what she has seen of Schwarzenegger this year, saw a snippet of the Democratic ad and said it made her think twice about Schwarzenegger.

"All I know is when I saw that, I thought if he's that close to Bush, I would be very much opposed to him being our governor again," she said.

But Democrat Marilyn Lockhart, a retired teacher from Los Angeles, said that the ads linking Schwarzenegger to Bush struck her as propaganda, and that she has grown to like the governor - at least better than she does Angelides. She said she'll probably vote for Schwarzenegger.

Different values
Tony Quinn, a legislative historian and California political analyst, said trying to link governor to Bush "lacks credibility because people think their governor is different."

Some voters see Schwarzenegger as his own man with values very different from the president's.

For example, a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute found that a third of the Democrats who disapprove of Bush still think the governor is doing a good job. Bush was at 35 percent approval in the Public Policy Institute poll, while Schwarzenegger was at 53 percent.

This week, Angelides tried to turn the Iraq war, highly unpopular in California, into a state issue by saying he would petition Bush to withdraw California's National Guard troops from Iraq if he were elected governor.

Schwarzenegger has supported the war since its inception, but he has avoided talking about it since the Democratic primary. Angelides also has had trouble being heard while the governor commands attention as he signs many bills that distinguish him from Bush's conservatism.

Schwarzenegger strategist Matthew Dowd said the Bush comparison "doesn't work in people's minds. They basically start asking the question, 'Why doesn't Phil talk about things that matter?'"

Bill Carrick, a strategist for Angelides, said the polls are just measuring the effects of the lopsided television war through the summer, in which Schwarzenegger and the Republican Party outspent Angelides and the Democrats $30 million to $6 million.

He said the links to Bush will keep Democrats from defecting to Schwarzenegger.

"We're in the process of telling the voters," Carrick said. "It's not over."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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