Vice-President Joe Biden was standing by Jon Corzine's side when the New Jersey governor kicked off his re-election campaign last month, but it was hard to tell from Corzine's remarks that there was a new administration in Washington.
"America doesn't need to be Bushwhacked again," Corzine declared, jabbing his index finger and drawing loud cheers. "New Jersey cannot afford to be Bushwhacked again."
"Tonight, Virginia, we move into the general election where there's a stark choice: of whether Virginia continues to move forward in the tradition of Mark Warner and Tim Kaine or whether we move backwards with the disastrous economic and social agenda of [GOP gubernatorial nominee] Bob McDonnell and George W. Bush."
It's been six months since President Bush left the White House and quietly decamped to Dallas, but you'd hardly know it from watching the two marquee elections of 2009. Bush-bashing, it seems, has not lost its political potency.
In the two races, both of which are being closely-watched as harbingers for the 2010 midterm election, Democrats are running campaigns using some of the same attacks that served many of their party counterparts well over the last two election cycles.
Both Corzine in New Jersey and Deeds in Virginia have sought to tie their GOP rivals to the still-unpopular former president and aides to the Democrats, along with other party strategists, remain convinced that the line of attack will remain effective so long as the economy continues to wheeze.
"We didn't get into the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression by accident," said Joe Abbey, Deeds' campaign manager. "A lot of voters rightfully place the blame on the economy on the Bush White House. Their memories aren't that short - and Virginia voters won't want to return to those policies under McDonnell."
But it's New Jersey, especially, where Democrats think that waving the bloody Bush shirt could produce dividends.
The former president is held in lower esteem in the liberal-leaning Garden State, where he lost twice, than in the Old Dominion, a state he twice carried.
And New Jersey's Republican nominee for governor, Chris Christie, does actually have significant ties to the GOP administration: he was a fundraising "Pioneer" for Bush in 2000 and then served as a Bush-appointed U.S. Attorney. The hefty Christie was familiar enough to Bush to earn a nickname from the former president- "Big Boy."
McDonnell, on the other hand, has no obvious Bush ties since he's only served in state office.
Then there is the pure politics of the New Jersey race. Corzine, a highly vulnerable incumbent who is trailing in early polls, may only be able to win re-election by effectively disqualifying Christie as a viable alternative. As recent Jersey contests have shown, there are few better ways for lackluster Democrats to win statewide election than by portraying their GOP opponents as ideologically out of step with the state and virtual replicas of the conservative brand of Republicanism that Bush represents.
"It especially makes sense in New Jersey where Corzine will win if he brings back the base of the party, where there was no love lost at all for Bush," said a national Democratic strategist closely following the off-year races.
Democrats believe that, in the process of fending off a primary challenger from the right earlier this year, Christie made their job easier.
"Chris Christie is going to lose because he is out of the New Jersey political mainstream - something that the unexpectedly difficult GOP primary forced to come to light," said another top national Democratic strategist. "Christie's background as a Bush [donor] only reinforces this."
Corzine's campaign hasn't yet hit Christie for his contributions to the former president, but the Bush connection is clearly central to their strategy.
In a hard-hitting broadcast ad aimed at painting Christie as corrupt and released earlier this week, Corzine's camp noted that after entering private practice the former U.S. Attorney gave a no-bid contract to "The Bush Attorney General who was Christie's boss."
"Christie was a George W. Bush appointee, so certainly there's a history there and a strong connection between Christie and Bush," said Sean Darcy, Corzine's communications director.
But a top adviser to Christie said the governor was simply trying to change the subject from his own tenure in Trenton.
"If there is going to be a referendum on anybody's term in office in November of '09 it will be on Jon Corzine's term," said Mike DuHaime, a Christie adviser.
As for Bush, his own former boss, DuHaime said: "People passed their judgment on President Bush's two terms in November of '08."
In Virginia, Deeds has not made the former president the centerpiece of his race, instead choosing to focus on a message intended to assure voters that he'll continue steering the state in the same centrist direction as the past two Democratic governors.
But Deeds campaign officials say they'll exploit any opportunity they have to tie McDonnell to Bush.
Even in Virginia, by any measure more conservative-leaning than New Jersey, Bush remains a tempting target. In a recent internal poll taken for Virginia Democrats, his favorability rating stood at 39 percent favorable and 49 percent unfavorable.
So when McDonnell late last month recalled positively the tax cuts Bush put in place after 9/11 and promised to implement similar policies to help businesses grow, visions of just-like-Bush mail pieces and commercials danced in the heads of Democratic operatives.
"They can't separate themselves from him while simultaneously praising the very ideology that sent this country's economy into a nose dive," said Nathan Daschle, who runs the Democratic Governors Association.
Much like in New Jersey, Virginia Republicans scoff at the notion of an ex-president affecting a gubernatorial contest.
"Look at the unemployment numbers, this campaign is about jobs and the economy," said McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin. "The more Deeds focuses on past presidents, the more he comes across as completely out of touch with Virginia voters."
Bush isn't the first former president whose name has served as a rallying cry for the opposition. Democrats milked Herbert Hoover and the specter of "Hoovervilles" for decades following FDR's 1932 election. Just last year, Sen. John McCain sought to tar President Obama by comparing him to Jimmy Carter.
It's not entirely clear whether those attacks will work in gubernatorial races, which are inherently about the stuff of state governance-roads, schools, taxes-and the two elections may serve as important test cases in advance of the many high-profile statehouse contests next year.
Jim Jordan, a longtime Democratic strategist, said Bush-bashing remained resonant as a "shorthand" for a failed, discredited approach.
"There's a reason why the favorability of the Republican Party is stuck in the 20s - we're still mired in his war, still struggling through his recession," said Jordan. "He'll seem less immediate to voters, and ties to Bush will likely mean less than it did in '06 or '08. But there's still something there, and it's a pretty powerful shorthand."
But Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant, said bringing up Bush amounted to mere laziness on the part of Democrats.
"They ran some Bush numbers and found out he still wasn't popular," Murphy surmised. "And they thought, 'Hey, it worked for Obama.' But they're fighting the last war."
Murphy, who worked on former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman's gubernatorial campaigns, recalled Whitman's defeat of former Gov. Jim Florio as owing entirely to the Democrat's record in Trenton.
"This is a state where governor's races very much turn on local issues," Murphy said.
If the Bush attacks do work, it will likely be because Democrats were able to prove tangible progress under his successor.
"They'll remind people how bad it was under Bush, and how much better it is getting under Obama," said University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato, referring to the Corzine and Deeds strategy. "And they have to hope that by this fall, people will agree that things are improving."