Candidates from Both Parties Shun Partisan Label

August 28, 2006 · 12:02 AM EDT

Newsflash! President Bush is unpopular. No wonder Democrats across the country are dutifully attempting to tie every Republican candidate to their unpopular leader.

But most Republicans are under no illusions about the President’s standing or mood of the electorate. They know voters are hostile. Instead of embracing the President and featuring themselves arm-in-arm with the commander in chief, GOP candidates are opting for the closed-door, closed-to-the-media fundraiser to take advantage of President Bush’s fund raising abilities.

Republican candidates are also leery of using their party label in paid advertising. For example, you won’t see or hear the word “Republican” in any ads by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) in her Albuquerque-based 1st District. She faces a tough reelection fight in a district won by John Kerry 51%-48% in 2004.

Wilson is just one example of a host of endangered Republican incumbents spending hundreds of thousands of dollars stressing the word “Independence” in campaign commercials. But even House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (MO-7) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (NY-26) make no mention of their party affiliation in recent television ads.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones running from their party label.

Democratic operatives are quick to tout the so-called generic ballot, including a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that showed Democrats leading 47%-32% and a CNN poll, which had them up 52%-43%. But many Democratic candidates either lack faith in those numbers or lack faith in the popularity of their own party.

A content analysis of 42 television advertisements over the last month from Democratic congressional candidates shows little mention of their own party. Less than one-quarter (10) of the ads mentioned the affiliation of the candidate, and eight of those were by candidates running in Democratic primaries.

State Senator Ron Klein, who is running against Rep. Clay Shaw in Florida’s 22nd District, is one of the two challengers to mention his party affiliation in a TV spot, and that’s as part of a graphic at the end of his ad. Washington 5 challenger Peter Goldmark followed suit, but he went with only a tiny “D” instead of the whole word “Democrat.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), shunned by much of his own party, declared himself a “proud Democrat.” But most Democratic congressional candidates can’t say the same thing.

What about state Sen. Chris Murphy in Connecticut 5? No party affiliation. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York 20? Nope. Joe Donnelly in Indiana 2? Nada. Patricia Madrid in New Mexico 1? Try again. Phil Kellam in Virginia 2? Not a chance. I’m sure Peter Welch in a state like Vermont where John Kerry got 59% would embrace the party label in his paid TV advertising, right? Nope.

The concept of avoiding the Democratic label is striking in the wake of the Connecticut Senate primary, where grassroots Democrats on the ground and on the Internet clamored for a Democratic candidate proud of the party’s ideals.

Matt Stoller of MyDD already noticed, and took exception to Washington 8 challenger Darcy Burner’s bio spot that made no reference to her party.

Democratic candidates are quick to rail against President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress. But please don’t call them Democrats. Call them “Not Republicans.”

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 24, 2006.