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Dem says Bush abandoning GOP candidates

By John King
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGT0N (CNN) -- The chairman of the Democratic National Committee accused the White House on Monday of "walking away" from the GOP candidates in this week's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

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The White House responded that President Bush was helping those candidates but said the results of Tuesday's contests should be viewed more as a reflection of local politics in each state, and not as a reflection on the president's political standing.

Bush has not campaigned this fall with either Republican nominee: Mark Earley in Virginia or Brent Schundler in New Jersey. Late polls in advance of Tuesday's elections showed both Earley and Schundler trailing.

At Monday's White House briefing, press secretary Ari Fleischer quoted DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe as saying this year's races were "not a referendum on President Bush."

McAuliffe, however, quickly called CNN after watching the televised briefing to note that was only part of what he had said: "These elections are not a referendum on President Bush, but they are a referendum on the Republican Party and its stale ideas."

McAuliffe went on to say, "The White House is walking away from these races. They have cut them both off and are now running from them."

White House aides have cited the military campaign overseas and the president's repeated calls for bipartisanship in explaining his absence from the campaign trail this fall.

Bush did sign letters declaring his support for the two Republican gubernatorial candidates, and those letters have been used in campaign mailings. In addition, voters in both states are hearing the president's voice as part of the GOP get-out-the-vote effort. The president recorded messages for the Earley and Schundler campaigns that are being used by GOP phone banks in the final hours before Tuesday's balloting.

Said Fleischer: "As far as personal campaigning appearances, that's something that the president would always decide about whether or not the time is right for him to campaign and to play a more active, visible part in politics. But, clearly, the president does understand and believes that politics is an ongoing part of democracy whether the time is of war or peace."


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