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Will Bush-bashing help Democrats win over weary voters?

By Ed Hornick, CNN
Lately, President Obama has been bring up George W. Bush's name in speeches and at fundraisers.
Lately, President Obama has been bring up George W. Bush's name in speeches and at fundraisers.
  • President Obama invokes George W. Bush's name in several speeches this week
  • Many say this is Obama's strategy for keeping control of Congress
  • Polls show Americans approved of Obama's handling of the economy over Bush's

Washington (CNN) -- While he's not on the ballot, George W. Bush is still vital to the midterm election as far as the nation's top Democrat is concerned.

President Obama has made a point recently to invoke Bush's name in what many say is a calculated effort to remind voters of the previous administration's economic policies, which Democrats argue led to the worst recession in modern history.

On Monday, the president told those attending a Democratic fundraiser in Atlanta, Georgia, that the GOP has not distinguished itself from Bush.

"They have not come up with a single solitary, new idea to address the challenges of the American people," Obama said. "They don't have a single idea that's different from George Bush's ideas ... not one."

That sentiment was echoed once again on Wednesday during a speech before the AFL-CIO and at a fundraiser in Chicago, Illinois, a day later.

"They haven't come out with a single solitary idea that is different from policies that held sway for eight years before Democrats took over," Obama said Thursday. "Not a single policy difference that's discernable from [George W.] Bush. Not one."

Since taking office, Obama has largely referred to the "previous administration" or the "Republican control for the past eight years" in place of saying the name "Bush."

So why the recent surge in Bush-bashing? It may have something to do with polls.

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A Quinnipiac University poll, taken July 13-19, asked 2,181 registered voters: "Who do you blame more for the current condition of the U.S. economy: former President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama?"

Fifty-three percent said Bush; 25 percent said Obama; 21 percent said either neither, both or unsure.

Perhaps the most stark example of why Bush's name is now a part of Obama's stump speech comes from a poll by the Benenson Strategy Group, the president's chief polling firm. The poll was taken for Third Way, a moderate think tank.

Conducted June 19-22 of 1,100 likely voters, the poll found that Bush's economic principles are "almost universally rejected" by a large margin -- and merely bringing up Bush's name causes a swing in attitudes.

When respondents were asked whether they would prefer a candidate who "will stick with President Barack Obama's economic policies" or "one who will return to President George W. Bush's economic policies," the result was a 15-point advantage for the Obama approach.

Read more of the poll results

"President Bush is the key here," said Sean Gibbons of Third Way. "If you enter President Bush's name into the equation and ask people when they're making a choice at the polls between going forward with President Obama's economic agenda or voting for a candidate who will pursue similar economic ideas as President Bush, Obama runs the table by 49 points. That is extraordinary."

Conservatives fare better when one of the poll questions pitted generic conservative ideas on the economy to those of the Obama administration. It showed that a majority "actually favor conservative ideas," Gibbons said, adding that "if you don't use President Bush's name, the whole thing flips."

Republicans, meanwhile, discredit the notion that invoking Bush will change the outcome of the election.

"Democrats can keep talking about the [Bush administration], but they'll do so in vain," said Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye. "Voters are concerned with the here and now, which means a job market that has atrophied and foreclosures on the rise while the Democrats who control Washington pass a stimulus bill no one wanted."

Oregon Republican Greg Walden, the deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has said that Democrats can "spin, they can sing, they can dance naked in the streets to say it's about Bush, but he's neither in the White House nor on the ballot."

Texas GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the campaign committee, told reporters in July that Republican candidates already "have their footing" in their races and noted that the former president has not participated in any political activities since he left office.

"He has not been involved. He does not do fundraisers. He's said to us 'I'm not interested in doing it' and that's goes back to the day he left," Sessions added.

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.