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July 21, 2006
A Change Of Implant

I spent an hour this afternoon in the company of one of the most interesting men in American politics: Karl Rove. He came to Minnesota to attend fundraisers for Michele Bachmann and Mark Kennedy and to meet with state Republican Party leaders to consult on the ongoing efforts. The White House called earlier this week to arrange a meeting with bloggers, and several of us managed to squeeze this unique opportunity into our busy schedules: Michael from Minnesota Democrats Exposed, Andy from Residual Forces, and Gary from Kennedy vs The Machine.

Rove had just come from the Bachmann luncheon, where they raised $50,000 for her campaign. The Kennedy event comes later tonight. He mentioned how impressed he was with Michele and her family. She and her husband have managed professional careers and five children -- yet made time to provide a home for 23 foster children. He felt that both campaigns were doing well, and laughed when we brought up the Minnesota Poll regarding Kennedy's supposed 19-point deficit with Amy Klobuchar. No one at the party HQ took that seriously at all, and while Rove hasn't seen any polling, he knows that Kennedy can't be 19 points back in a state where all but one of the constitutional officers are Republican.

This was an interesting chat. We had met once before, on our trip to Washington DC almost exactly a year ago, and he still recalled our conversation. The conversation remained mostly fixed on elections and campaigning -- obviously his forté -- but he remembered teasing me about all of the blogging I had done on Canadian politics. Rove told me that he had the chance to spend some time with Stephen Harper and was pleasantly surprised about how geniune the Canadian PM was. He and I agreed that Harper's transparency played against him for too long; Liberals tried for years to make his openness into some sort of false front that masked a "hidden agenda". Canadians now have found out how wrong that assessment was.

Mostly, though, Rove talked about campaigns and the necessity of grassroots efforts in modern political campaigns. His experience in Texas showed him the critical nature of grassroots. In 1977 when he first arrived, Democrats controlled both houses of the legislature by wide margins and held every statewide office. Rove and the Republicans put good candidates together with a wide network of volunteers, phone banks, and measurable objectives -- and they transformed Texas in less than twenty years. Now the GOP holds all the statewide offices and both houses of the Legislature.

During the first Bush presidential campaign, they used the same model. He spoke about his experiences in West Virginia, where they had not seen any kind of grassroots campaign before. The last time the state had a national party HQ was in 1972, and the last presidential-ticket visit came in 1956, when Richard Nixon did a airport appearance. Rove helped the GOP open 28 offices throughout the state, and it resulted in a 22-point turnaround from 1996, when Bob Dole lost the state by 16 points to Bill Clinton. Bush took it by 6 over Al Gore.

Rove also talked about the "two great myths of American politics": single-issue voters and "the base", as defined by critics. Rove thinks that those who claim to be single-issue voters actually show much more nuance when the choices cease to be hypothetical. As far as "the base" goes, Rove laughed it off as a straw man for critics of the GOP. Of late, many pundits have claimed that Rove wants to win elections by pandering to a narrow political slice of the spectrum. He counters this by noting that Bush received many more votes in 2004 than he did in 2000, even by percentage. People win elections, Rove said, by broadening their appeal, not by narrowing it.

We did spend some time talking about this election cycle. He's optimistic about holding both chambers of Congress this year. The Senate is almost a foregone conclusion to remain in GOP control just because of the numbers involved. The Democrats have more at risk than the Republicans, and they would have to run the table to force a change. He's even pretty confident of being able to hold the House. Incumbents win almost all of the time, and when they don't it's usually because the party takes the votes for granted and fail to organize well.

He's also looked at the numbers for the really tough Congressional races this fall, identifying 18 at risk. Of those 18, Bush won in 16 of the districts by an average of 59-41, and in the other two, he lost by an average of 52-48. Unless something radically changes in the next 100 days, he sees the Republicans at least holding their own this November. Fundraising has gone very well. Republicans have raised over $208M. Four years ago, the GOP only had $198M by the end of July.

I asked Rove about election themes for the party; would the GOP focus on the war, on the economy, or on other issues like gay marriage? He seemed a bit dismissive of the idea of themes for midterm elections. The party might highlight their legislative agenda, and the war would certainly impact most races, but individual candidates would really make the decision on which themes work best for themselves. He did think that the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict would serve to remind people that we still are at war with terrorists. Hezbollah is the kind of terrorist organization that we want to eliminate, and their acquisition of longer range rockets and now missiles should remind voters that national security still remains a priority. However, Rove also felt that this particular conflict would not be anyone's campaign theme, but important background that voters would keep in mind themselves.

I also asked him whether he intended on staying in electoral politics after 2006. He gave me a wry grin and made a joke, but declined to answer the question. In my opinion, he loves political organization too much to give it up -- and that's good news for Republicans everywhere.

Note: I did get my brain implant upgraded to v2.0, in case you were wondering.

UPDATE: That brain implant got my blogs mixed up. Gary's at KVM, and Andy's at Residual Forces! I've made the corrections, and I have no idea why I got them turned around.

UPDATE: Karl raised $50,000, not $15,000, at the Bachmann event.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 21, 2006 5:20 PM

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An interesting piece on Stephen Harper in National Review : Also, the good Capt'n meets with Karl Rove: This was an interesting chat. We had met once before, on our trip to Washington DC almost exactly a year ago, and... [Read More]

Tracked on July 22, 2006 7:13 PM


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