A liberal advocacy group plans to spend $8.5 million in a drive to ensure that President Bush's public approval doesn't improve as his days in the White House come to an end.
Americans United for Change plans to undertake a yearlong campaign, spending the bulk of the money on advertising, to keep public attention on what the group says are the Bush administration's failures, including the war in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the current mortgage crisis.
In selling the plan to fundraisers, the group has argued that support for President Reagan was at a low of 42 percent in 1987 but climbed to 63 percent before he left office. "All of a sudden he became a rallying cry for conservatives and their ideology," said Brad Woodhouse, the group's president. "Progressives are still living with that."
The group is a nonprofit corporation that made a splash by airing ads against Bush's plans to overhaul Social Security in 2005. The group has conducted polls and focus groups and is now raising money for their anti-Bush effort. It gave a Power Point presentation last week to representatives of about 30 liberal and labor organizations.
It planned to announce the campaign at a press conference Thursday afternoon during a forum featuring liberal critics of the administration. It also aims to air its first ad before Bush's State of the Union speech on Monday.
Woodhouse said one goal is to make sure Bush does not enjoy a resurgence in public approval toward the end of his presidency that could help Republican congressional candidates and the GOP presidential nominee in this year's elections.
"Framing his legacy helps us in the '08 elections, there is no doubt about that," Woodhouse said. "But our principal mission would be defining the failures of Bush and the ideology he represents."
Bush's approval ratings are at 34 percent, according to a poll this month by The Associated Press and Ipsos. Republican presidential candidates are hardly embracing Bush, except to support his policy in Iraq, and many are echoing Democrats' calls for change in Washington.
Looking to test Bush support within the GOP, Americans United is distributing "I am a Bush Republican" buttons to Republican members of Congress before the State of the Union address. Woodhouse also plans to unveil a bus that will travel the country carrying an exhibit that portrays Bush's tenure in office - mementos from Iraq and flood ravaged New Orleans as well as symbols of the economic downturn.
The Republican National Committee dismissed the effort. "Why would liberals want to spend good money re-fighting the battles they lost yesterday?" said RNC spokesman Alex Conant. "Those backward-looking tactics didn't work in 2000 and 2004, and they won't work now. The 2008 election will be about the future and which candidate is best able to lead during a time of war and economic challenge."
Bush's approval ratings have been at the same low levels for more than a year. And just when violence in Iraq began to decline, the troubled economy surged to the top of people's worries.
But an anti-Bush campaign, even one costing several million dollars, will likely be overshadowed by the presidential campaign. Most analysts expect the candidates and outside groups will spend hundreds of millions of dollars this year.
Americans United is a 501(c)4 organization under Internal Revenue Service regulations. That means it can raise money in unlimited amounts and because its target is Bush, not a candidate for federal office, it is not governed by the Federal Election Commission.