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Are Republicans running scared of Bush?

President Bush is a big draw in campaign 2006 — for Democrats eager to link their GOP opponents with an unpopular president. NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory reports.

President Bush is a big draw in campaign 2006 — for Democrats eager to link their GOP opponents with an unpopular president.

"The more we work together, the happier we'll be," sing children in a television ad running in Ohio, mocking Sen. Mike DeWine's pledge to work with both parties and attempting to tie him to President Bush.

"Michael Steele is a long-time supporter of George Bush," says another ad paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the Maryland Senate race. 

Jim Webb, challenging Republican Sen. George Allen in Virginia, thinks Allen, particularly when it comes to the war in Iraq, is loyal to a fault.

"People are looking for someone who has the courage to stand up to power when power is being use wrongly," says Webb.

The Democratic attacks have led some Republicans in moderate districts to highlight their independence.

"I've gone against the president and the Republican leadership when I think they're wrong," says Rep. Christopher Shays in a Connecticut TV ad.

A top adviser to Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, who's trailing in his battle to win reelection in Pennsylvania, describes the president as a distraction. A Bush visit becomes all about him.

"What we need are to have these races be about Republican vs. the Democrat, not just a referendum on some of the problems in Washington," says political consultant John Brabender.

"It's a simple matter of Bush's unpopularity," says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "He's low enough in the polls so that he's a minus at the polls for Republicans for Senate and House and governor. So they put him at arm's length."

Though the Republican party says Mr. Bush has raised nearly $200 million for the GOP this year, many appearances have been closed to the news media.

Some candidates prefer to be seen with more popular political figures like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

That said, the commander in chief can still turn out the conservative base with red meat pitches on taxes and terrorism.

"The stakes are high," said Bush on Oct. 3 in Stockton, Calif. "The Democrats are the party of cut and run. Ours is a party with a clear vision."

Still, it's a year when even stalwart Republicans have a lukewarm view of the White House.

"Do you believe that President Bush is a great president?" NBC's Tim Russert asked Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., Oct. 8 on "Meet the Press."

"Certainly, he's going to end up better than Jimmy Carter, probably not as good as Ronald Reagan," replied Talent.

Even in this climate White House advisers deny that the president is a liability .Said one top official, "He can sharpen the questions in these races and motivate the party to pay attention."

All in a year when voter intensity will win the day.