Ohio: Bush 50, Obama 42

A new GOP-boosting blockbuster from Rasmussen? Not quite: This comes from Kos’s new pollster, PPP.

The Bushitler over the Lightworker in the paradigm midwestern swing state — by eight points. On a gut level, that strikes me as more amazing than even yesterday’s Gallup blockbuster.

We’ll start rolling out our Ohio poll results tomorrow but there’s one finding on the poll that pretty much sums it up: by a 50-42 margin voters there say they’d rather have George W. Bush in the White House right now than Barack Obama.

Independents hold that view by a 44-37 margin and there are more Democrats who would take Bush back (11%) than there are Republicans who think Obama’s preferable (3%.)

The typical battleground this year isn’t Ohio, says PPP, it’s … California. In fact, this isn’t the first poll they’ve put out in the past few months indicating that Bush leads Obama in some surprising metric. Remember this one back in June showing that more Louisianans approved of Bush’s handling of Katrina than of The One’s handling of the oil spill? There’s a lot going on in these 43 vs. 44 comparisons: Part of it is performance; part of it is nostalgia for a time when the economy was growing; part of it is new respect for Bush vis-a-vis the way he’s handled himself as an ex-president; and part of it is general disaffection with The One’s agenda leading any alternative to look rosier by comparison. But part of it too, I think, is what John Dickerson shrewdly identifies in this Slate piece. The great knock on Bush, of course, was that he was so singularly incompetent that replacing him with anyone would necessarily mean a better economy and progress in the war. Replacing him with a global messiah, though? Big improvements in both areas. And yet, 18 months later, here we are facing a double-dip and ever-rising pessimism about Afghanistan. The “it’s all Bush’s fault” meme will be evergreen on the left, but the more trouble Obama has, the less singular Bush’s incompetence looks, which is bound to mean an uptick in Strange New Respect for Dubya.

As for Obama, he is not consciously trying to improve the public’s view of the Bush years. Indeed, he is actively reminding people of the mess he inherited from his predecessor. It is a key theme of the entire Democratic campaign. At the same time, as Obama demonstrates the natural limits of presidential action, he unwittingly adds perspective to assessments of what President Bush could do. As he benefits from policies he once opposed—such as the surge in Iraq, which helped make tomorrow’s speech possible—Obama proves that even a smart politician with the best of intentions can be wrong. And as he champions making tough calls even in the face of popular opposition, he often sounds eerily like his predecessor.

The relevant similarity between the federal response to Katrina and the BP oil spill (other than geography) is that both show the limits of the presidency and the federal government. Of course, a hurricane is different from an oil spill, and it’s not necessary, for the purposes of comparison, to pass judgment on Bush’s or Obama’s response. The point is that from a purely logistical standpoint, it’s hard to get the federal bureaucracy to move quickly. That’s true whether you think the president is uniquely incompetent or a smart manager. A president weighing the benefits and costs of making a visit to the disaster area can catch similar grief for not taking command whether they’re photographed in a plane or on a basketball court. And even an eloquent speaker can sound the wrong note.

Presumably Bush’s numbers will dip a bit again once he launches his book tour and past crises start being rehashed in the media. But who knows? Dickerson’s point is that the worse Obama looks, the better Dubya seems by comparison. If Hopenchange continues to disintegrate, the “Miss Me Yet?” bandwagon could be a bona fide fee-vah by November. I never thought we’d be using Bush’s legacy as a weathervane, but there you have it.

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