Published Online: February 27, 2002
Published in Print: February 27, 2002, as Federal File


Federal File

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A Yen for Dems

Is Sen. Edward M. Kennedy the new Bob Bullock?

Mr. Bullock, who died in 1999, was the notoriously crusty lieutenant governor in Texas' unique weak-governor/strong-lieutenant-governor system. And a Democrat. And perhaps the best political friend President Bush had in his six years leading the state.

Mr. Bullock and George W. Bush hit it off immediately when Mr. Bush became governor in 1995. Eventually, Mr. Bullock endorsed Mr. Bush for re-election—over a Democrat whose son was Mr. Bullock's godson. Gov. Bush gave the eulogy at the lieutenant governor's funeral, and devoted a chapter of his autobiography to "Bully."

After he became president, one of Mr. Bush's first White House guests was Mr. Kennedy. The president spent last month on a Kennedy praise-fest after signing the education bill that Massachusetts' senior senator had so much to do with. Mr. Bush singled out his "good friend" during the State of the Union Address. Now they're talking about working together on early-childhood-education legislation.

Pundits see a pattern: Mr. Bush bonds with an older, respected Democrat, helping himself with Democratic voters. The Democrat gets some of what he wants, too—in Sen. Kennedy's case, billions of dollars in extra education funding.

The analogy isn't perfect. Mr. Kennedy's politics are well to the left of Mr. Bullock's. And the senator, despite the presidential bonhomie, in January called for reversing last year's tax cuts. Two weeks ago, he attacked the president's 2003 spending plan.

"I'd be very surprised to see Kennedy endorse Bush for re- election," understated Bruce Buchanan, a University of Texas at Austin government professor.

Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, sees the parallel. In both cases, he argued, Mr. Bush has gotten more out of the partnership.

"In the calculus of politics, Bush is the big winner," he said. "Will it extend beyond one issue? I doubt it. They disagree on just about everything else."

—Ben Wear

Vol. 21, Issue 24, Page 21

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