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Where are Bush, Cheney as election nears?

By Ed Hornick, CNN
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush, here in July 2008, have been absent on this year's campaign trail.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush, here in July 2008, have been absent on this year's campaign trail.
  • Former President George W. Bush has remained quiet since leaving office
  • Ex-Vice President Dick Cheney has been outspoken critic of Obama administration
  • But Cheney has suffered heart troubles and recently underwent surgery
  • Bush set to return to spotlight when book "Decision Points" comes out after midterm election

Washington (CNN) -- Dick Cheney is certainly not one to hold back on how he really feels. George W. Bush, on the other hand, has been mum.

Despite their differing approaches to handling the post-White House years, their absence on the campaign trail has been obvious.

"The former president has been very quiet since leaving the White House in 2008, other than appearances related to fundraising and the establishment of his presidential library," said political analyst Bill Crane. "The vice president has primarily been visible on issues such as national defense and has traditionally not been the strongest fundraising draw."

Cheney also has been dealing with health troubles -- undergoing heart surgery in July and spending the bulk of his time since then recovering.

But that is not stopping him. The 69-year-old soon will embark on a 10-stop speaking tour this year, with additional plans next year when his memoirs are slated to come out.

While conservatives adore the former vice president, they understand that he is a polarizing figure, especially to independents, a vital voting bloc in any election.

"Conservatives would love to see Dick Cheney be more vocal," said S.E. Cupp, a conservative blogger and co-author of the book "Why You're Wrong about the Right." "But at the same time, he's not an idiot and neither are conservatives. He realizes that while that might energize the conservative base, that might not win over many independents who have a very bitter taste in their mouth from the Bush administration."

And it shows in the polls.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll in early September found that 71 percent said Bush should get blame for the country's economic troubles. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll taken at the same time indicated that 53 percent blamed Bush and Republicans for causing the current economic conditions, while 33 percent blamed President Obama and Democrats.

Those numbers may be why Tea Party-backed candidates such as Republican Sharron Angle and Ken Buck have made a name for themselves and are neck and neck in the polls against their Democratic opponents. They tout themselves as outside the Washington fray.

Washington insiders such as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele are likely seen as a part of the problem to voters disenchanted with Washington.

"There's a reason why so many of these conservative candidates are not going to John Boehner to help them to campaign," Cupp said. "They kind of want to do it on their own to have at least an appearance of being grass-roots and unaffiliated."

Democratic strategist Mark Siegel, who served under former President Carter, said Bush's presence on the campaign trail would hurt the GOP candidates' message that they would govern differently than the previous administration.

"Democrats have been saying over and over again that if you elect these new Republicans we're just going to go back to the way things were," he said.

Crane argues that Bush's absence has more to do with respect.

"President Bush's father took a similar approach during the Clinton years," Crane said. "Having spent some time around the family ... this is more about their respect for the office ... as opposed to 'fear' by GOP challengers and incumbents about being connected with Bush, in my humble opinion."

But Bush soon will appear from his so-called hiding when his book "Decision Points" is released on November 9. He is expected to give exclusive interviews and make appearances -- after the November 2 election.

The ex-president has released a YouTube video previewing his upcoming book. In the video, Bush says he decided to take an "untraditional approach" to his memoir, forgoing an "exhaustive, chronological account of my life and years in office."

CNN Political Ticker: Bush on 'What I got right, what I got wrong'

Cupp said that Bush's media blitz after the election is most likely due to his own political savvy.

"I don't think he wants anyone to be able to say, 'If Bush just hadn't had said that or done that or gone there, maybe I could have won,' " she said. "It's self-protection for one. I think he wants to stay out of the headlines for a bit."

She added that this understanding of the political climate right now may be behind his decision to stay out of the spotlight.

And that is something Democrats have seized on.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly have invoked Bush's name on the campaign trail -- talking points that more than likely originated from a poll this summer by the Benenson Strategy Group, the president's chief polling firm, 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 the former president'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 about Democrats' Bush bashing

But a lot has changed since then.

According to CNN/Opinion Research poll in October, Americans are divided over whether Obama or Bush performed better in the White House.

By 47 percent to 45 percent, Americans say Obama is a better president than Bush. But that margin is down from a 23-point advantage a year ago.

"Democrats may want to think twice about bringing up former President George W. Bush's name while campaigning this year," said Keating Holland, CNN's polling director.

Many moderate Democrats in hard-fought battles this year are shying away from being seen with the president -- but are putting out the welcome mat for another one: Bill Clinton.

He has stumped in conservative areas for Blue Dog Democrats and is a real asset for Democrats across the board, Siegel said.

"Bill Clinton is not governing now. And when you think back to his presidency, at least economically, you think about a booming economy and surpluses, fiscally responsible," he said. "I could see how he would be a tremendous plus. Bubba in the South -- very, very popular culturally ... popular among the people who are going to be determining the fate of a lot of Blue Dog Democrats."