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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

Unless he some day realizes his dream of being the first Jewish Speaker, Rahm Emanuel will likely be best remembered as Barack Obama’s first chief of staff. But he is also a Bill Clinton legacy who ran for and won public office after serving in the administration of the forty-third president.

Will the forty-fourth president, George W. Bush, leave behind a similar platoon of political legacies?

According to The Hill, the first wave of Bush43 Administration veterans will be seeking office in 2009 and 2010. Former Bush staffers and appointees are running for state legislative seats, the U.S House and, in two cases, U.S. Senate (Rob Portman, Ohio; Tom Foley, Connecticut).

Having served in the Bush Administration can be a mixed blessing, according to one candidate:

“Working in the White House under any administration is a privilege, and I had a great experience there,” added Tim Nank, who is running for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Nank worked in the White House on nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism issues.

Having the Bush White House on their résumés is both a political positive and a negative for candidates. On one hand, Nank said, it could help him with his right flank and encourage the base to turn out for him. On the other, he is not going out of his way to advertise his work for President Bush.

“President Bush’s popularity rating is obviously very low, and I think the people in my district would probably not look favorably on that,” Nank said, adding, “I haven’t had a lot of people ask me where I worked. They usually ask where I work.” (emphasis added)

Many former Bush staffers took traditional jobs in consulting and government relations, though some struggled at first to find any work. I cannot help but add that there is a certain ironic justice here, given that they had jobs while other Americans were losing theirs during the late stages of the Bush era.

Political scientist Mo Fiorina has argued that, all else equal, elected office is more attractive to liberals not only because they tend to believe in government but because the opportunity costs of seeking office for conservatives–what with their better business connections–are presumably greater and thus an added deterrent to running. But former administration officials, regardless of their party affiliation, tend to have ample opportunities to cash in after their presidential service. Those who do run are thus likely to have pretty strong political ambitions of their own, given the other opportunities available to them.

What will be interesting to see, as The Hill piece suggests, is just how much taint, if any, prior service in the Bush Administration carries. In conservative districts it might not matter at all, and could even help. As for Ohio and Connecticut, there are other, demographic reasons to suspect that those two Senate contests will break Democratic, regardless of whether the Republican nominees are former Bush appointees, but it will fun to see how the political resumes of the two Republicans in those races affects their chances if Portman and Foley win their respective GOP nominations.

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