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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Bush's presidential family line not necessarily an asset

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- Ask Republicans what they like about Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and many of them are sure to mention his father and mother. Whether it was the former president's Gulf War success, his personal qualities, or his World War II heroics, many Republicans still have a real fondness for the Bush family.

And the allegiance of many GOPers to the Bush family is one of the reasons why Gov. Bush won his party's presidential nomination earlier this year.

But being the son of a former president isn't always an asset. When his father referred to the Texas governor as "this boy, this son of mine," many voters suddenly wondered whether a "boy" was up to handling the presidency.

When Gov. Bush said in a recent USA Today interview that "people are going to hear at the convention about how proud I am to be George Bush's son," he once again raised an issue that is a double-edged sword for the GOP presidential nominee.

There is certainly nothing wrong about Bush's pride in his father. On the contrary, his feelings are both understandable and admirable. But the Texas governor could get himself into trouble if voters come to believe that Bush is running for president primarily to overturn the results of the 1992 presidential contest, and to pay back Vice President Al Gore for the Clinton-Gore campaign's victory over his father.

Voters don't like sore losers. One of the reasons that former Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz did so poorly in his effort to defeat Sen. Paul Wellstone in the 1992 Minnesota race was that voters decided Boschwitz was running primarily to get revenge against the man who defeated him six years earlier.

Bush has explicitly denied that motive -- he has said, "You can't win an election if your reason for running is based on revenge" -- but talk about his father and his father's political career only serves to remind people that the upcoming Gore-Bush election has roots going back eight years.

The governor's advantage over Gore in recent polls is largely due to the fact that voters give the Texan much higher marks than Gore for leadership. But most voters haven't yet focused on the presidential race, and if they come to see Gov. Bush as merely former President Bush's son, the Republicans' presidential prospects would likely suffer.

Take the elder Bush's role in the selection of Dick Cheney as the governor's running mate. "W" acknowledges that he talked with his father about the selection of a vice president, and he defends himself by arguing, "It's no sign of weakness to talk to your dad."

The younger Bush is right again, of course. But voters probably wouldn't be too pleased if they were to believe that the former president was making a lot of important decisions, because it would suggest that George W. Bush wasn't up to the job himself.

So far, the governor has been able to emerge from his father's shadow without completely cutting the umbilical chord. He's embraced veteran "Bushies" like Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice, but avoided the impression that his presidency would be identical to his father's. And he's been able to talk about "compassionate conservatism" without reminding voters of his father's very similar "kinder and gentler" rhetoric.

Polling shows that voters currently like the younger Bush, see him as a strong leader, and have confidence in his ability to deal with the economy and education. He's successfully positioned himself as a candidate of the future, and as someone who can close the book on the Clinton years. Whatever his love for and pride in his father, Bush ought to keep his eye on the political future, not on the political past.