Washington Just as voters are about to tune in to this fall's battle for control of the House of Representatives, many Republican incumbents are running away from President Bush out of fear that they'll be caught in an anti-Bush tidal wave that could sweep them from power.
In battleground districts from Florida to Minnesota, incumbent Republicans are all but bragging about their disagreements with the president on issues such as Iraq, immigration and Social Security.
Republican leaders hope that their members know their districts well enough to ride out a national wave of sentiment against Bush and the war in Iraq. The White House recognizes that fellow Republicans may have to dis the president to win.
But at least one widely respected analyst thinks it may not be enough.
"Time is running out for Republicans," said Charles Cook, the editor of the Cook Political Report, a respected independent research report. "Unless something dramatic happens before Election Day, Democrats will take control of the House."
Republicans feel the threat, and are reacting with an a la carte approach to the president and his agenda, picking and choosing when to agree and disagree.
In Pennsylvania's 6th District, outside Philadelphia, for example, Rep. Jim Gerlach stresses his distance from Bush as much as his closeness, hoping that will make the difference in a tight rematch against Democratic challenger Lois Murphy.
"When I believe President Bush is right, I'm behind him. When I think he's wrong, I let him know that, too," Gerlach says in one TV ad.
Gerlach notes where he's parted ways with the White House: He's for expanding federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and critical of privatizing Social Security.
In Florida's 22nd District, along the Atlantic coast near Fort Lauderdale, Rep. Clay Shaw casts himself as an independent voice and an outright Bush opponent on Social Security, a very important issue to the district's elderly population.
Shaw's first campaign ad appealed to Democratic voters by emphasizing his environmental record and his "effectiveness and independence."
A commercial that began airing Wednesday shows Shaw distancing himself from the president over Bush's proposal to partly privatize Social Security.
"I have disagreed with the president on this particular matter," Shaw says. "There's a lot of Republicans and Democrats that would make this a political issue. I represent the state of Florida, not a political party."
In southern Minnesota's 1st District, Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht returned from a July trip to Iraq to say that the situation in Baghdad was more dangerous than he'd been led to believe. Perhaps it was time to bring some American troops home, he said, and force Iraqis themselves to step up to secure the city.
Staying the course in Iraq, he said, could be "disastrous."
On Tuesday, Gutknecht made a point of inviting questions on all subjects, including Iraq, during a meeting with members of rural electric cooperatives in Mankato, Minn. When no one mentioned the war, the congressman had aides pass out an "issue alert" that he'd written himself, describing the situation in Baghdad as "worse today than it was three years ago."
To be sure, not all Republican incumbents are fleeing Bush.
In Kentucky's 4th District, freshman Rep. Geoff Davis is in a tough race to win a second term against former Democratic Congressman Ken Lucas.
A West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, Davis refuses to second-guess the decision to go to war in Iraq, saying decisions were made with the information available at the time.
But even he breaks with Bush on immigration, preferring the House Republican bill, which doesn't offer illegal immigrants a path to citizenship as the president wants.
However, as for worries that voters might reject pro-war incumbents, just as Connecticut voters rejected Lieberman on Tuesday, Davis dismissed the thought.