Bush Backs GOP Candidates, But Dems Leading in Gubernatorial Races

President Bush's high approval ratings are not rubbing off on GOP candidates running in two odd-year elections for governor.

Both Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley and former New Jersey's Jersey City Mayor Brett Schundler are trailing against their Democratic opponents in polls on their race for governor.

Bush has tried to help by sending a letter urging Virginians to vote for Earley. Paid for by the Republican National State Elections Committee, it has been sent to "hundreds of thousands of voters," said Earley spokesman David Botkins. 

Bush wrote that Earley, lieutenant governor candidate Jay Katzen and attorney general candidate Jerry Kilgore "are experienced leaders with a positive agenda to keep Virginia moving forward."

Earley is trailing by 10 percentage points in the race against Democrat businessman Mark Warner, according to a Washington Post poll Monday.

Bush has not scheduled any appearances with Earley, suggesting that the letter is a halfhearted gesture by a president reluctant to alienate Democrats whose support he will need in the war against terrorism.

"If this is all Bush does for Earley, it's my guess he's separating himself from the Republican candidate here as well as in New Jersey," said Larry Sabato, political science professor at the University of Virginia.

A poll released Tuesday found Democrat Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey pulling past the 50 percent mark against Schundler among likely New Jersey voters.  The Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, showed the race at 52-35 percent in a survey of 1,068 likely voters.  The poll had a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

McGreevey was narrowly defeated by Christine Todd Whitman in the 1997 gubernatorial match-up.

Botkins said the Earley campaign would like Bush to travel to neighboring Virginia to campaign for the GOP ticket before the election. 

"Any time the president of the United States, whose popularity rating is 90 percent-plus, does a statewide mailing to hundreds of thousands of voters, that's a huge push and will help us over the goal line," Botkins said.

Warner spokesman Amanda Crumley said the letter was "not surprising," but that "ultimately this race will be decided by Virginia voters on Virginia issues."

The election will be held in both states on Nov. 6.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.