Most of the 2008 Republican presidential-nomination hopefuls remain hesitant to explicitly criticize President Bush, but many of them are advocating policies that highlight their differences from the president as his approval ratings remain low.
In particular, Republican candidates have been critical of increases in federal spending over the last eight years.
Jesse Benton, Texas Rep. Ron Paul's communications director, said his candidate has little in common with the current president. He mentioned government spending and the war in Iraq as two major areas of contention.
"We've seen entitlements grow under the Bush administration with prescription-drug addition to Medicare," he said. "And we've seen discretionary spending grow at a rate faster than under Bill Clinton."
Saying that the representative has been critical of Bush from the beginning, Benton argued that Paul is the most-principled conservative running for president.
"We're haggling over $35 billion for this SCHIP bill while we've spent more than $600 billion in Iraq already," he said, in describing his belief that the Iraq war is a major fiscal issue.
However, Benton said, those in the Paul campaign are fully aware that many voters in the Republican base still support Bush.
"We realize that we need to reach those people," he said. "There are a lot of conservatives who still support Bush out of loyalty, but increasingly, they are waking up to the fact that this is not a conservative administration."
Despite being more in line with Bush's foreign-policy stances than Paul, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has also insisted that the Republican Party needs to get its fiscal house in order.
Tim Albrecht, Romney's Iowa spokesman, said the former governor is not trying to distance himself from Bush but deliver a broader message.
"He's talking about all Republicans and getting back to our roots," he said. "We are the party of small government and fiscal conservatism."
Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science, said it's normal for candidates to try to set themselves apart from the sitting president.
Although they were running to replace relatively popular presidents, he said both the first President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore tried to show that they would not be identical to their predecessors. However, Bush's low approval rating probably plays a roll in how the candidates interact with him, Hagle said.
"Most Republican candidates don't want to criticize the president because he is still popular with much of the base, but at the same time, they don't want to be too closely associated with him," he said. "Not mentioning him at all is a way for them to get around that problem."
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© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE