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Karl Rove, an astute Republican consultant.

Summary: Helping the party in several successful election campaigns, the political adviser also had a few 'dirty tricks' up his sleeve

Image Credit: Luis Vazquez/Gulf News

Staff Report

Karl Rove became politically aware and a staunch Republican at a very early age. At the age of nine, he was such an outspoken fan of Richard Nixon's presidential campaign that he was beaten up by an older girl who preferred John F. Kennedy. His family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Rove attended high school and became a champion debater, going to school in a coat and tie and scaring his debate opponents by bringing boxes of index cards to debates (they did not know the cards were blank). He was elected president of his student government and worked on a US senator's re-election campaign as a class project.

In 1969, Rove went to the University of Utah, where he joined the College Republicans. Through the group, he went to Illinois to work on a US Senate campaign. By 1971, he became the College Republicans' national executive director. He showed a talent for writing short, simple, effective political messages and became a specialist in creating political literature and direct mail. He also travelled across the country on weekends, teaching seminars on activism to college conservatives. Meanwhile, Rove's parents divorced, and he learnt that the man who had raised him -- Louis, a mineral geologist -- was not his biological father. (He did not meet his birth father until decades later.)

Rove never finished college. He left school to run for chair of the College Republicans in 1973, with Lee Atwater (who went on to run George H.W. Bush's campaign for president in 1988) as his top assistant. The bitter campaign for the chairmanship ended in a disputed election, and George H.W. Bush, then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, was asked to resolve the dispute. Bush not only ruled in Rove's favour, but got Rove a job with the Republican National Committee and became a mentor to him. While running an errand for Bush in 1973, Rove met Bush's son, George W. Bush, and the two became friends.

In 1993, Rove convinced George W. Bush to run for governor of Texas to unseat popular Democratic incumbent Ann Richards. With Rove's advice, Bush campaigned on four issues meant to appeal to suburban voters: welfare reform, support of education, tort reform and juvenile justice. Bush stuck relentlessly to his message throughout the 1994 campaign and won.

Next, Rove helped Republicans take over the Texas state senate in 1996 and helped Bush win re-election by a large margin in 1998. Meanwhile, Rove was also advising candidates for judgeships in Alabama. Green's "Atlantic Monthly" profile of Rove attributed several dirty tricks to him or the campaigns he managed there. For instance, in 1996, Rove arranged for vicious fliers to be distributed attacking his own candidate for state supreme court, Harold See, correctly guessing that voters would blame See's opponent for the offensive attack and elect See.

As George W. Bush began to explore a run for president, Rove recruited experts to tutor Bush in issues he did not understand well and made sure that Bush met various important people in full view of reporters. In 1999, Bush announced he would run for president. By June of that year, with Rove's help, he had raised an intimidating $36 million (Dh132 million), making him the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

When the 2000 primaries began, Bush was almost upset by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who beat Bush by 19 points in New Hampshire. But Bush (again, with Rove's help) recovered in South Carolina, attacking McCain aggressively on abortion and other issues. McCain also faced a dirty rumour campaign questioning his mental health and falsely claiming he fathered an illegitimate child, though the Bush campaign denied involvement. Bush beat McCain in South Carolina and went on to win the Republican nomination.

During the general election, Rove encouraged Bush to stick to similar themes as those he used in Texas: education, faith-based initiatives, and a promise to be a "compassionate conservative". The election ended up very close, with Vice-President Al Gore leading in the popular vote but Bush winning the most electoral votes, and the presidency, after being declared the winner in the disputed state of Florida.

Bush named Rove a senior adviser, and Rove immediately began strategising for the 2002 congressional elections and the 2004 presidential campaign. In January of 2001, he announced a plan called the 72-Hour Task Force, meant to organise grassroots efforts to get out the vote in the last three days of a campaign.

Rove also developed a new political strategy, focused less on suburban swing voters and more on mobilising core Republican supporters, including evangelical Christians, since Rove's statistics on the 2000 presidential election showed that four million evangelicals did not vote. To minimise dissent and mixed messages in the Bush Administration, Rove held weekly meetings with the chiefs of staff of all the departments in Bush's cabinet.

By mid-2002, Rove was stressing that after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the war on terror could be a powerful campaign issue for Republicans. Sure enough, Rove and many Republican candidates attacked Democrats for opposing Bush's plan to establish a homeland security department.

As the elections neared, Rove decided to have Bush campaign in person for candidates for Senate in close races in states such as Georgia and Minnesota. At the grassroots level, Republicans executed Rove's voter-turnout strategies. The plans worked. Republicans won big in the 2002 elections, winning back control of the US Senate. "Time" named Rove its Person of the Week after the election, with writer Jessica Reaves calling him "one of the country's sharpest and most instinctive political minds".

Rove's influence as Bush's political adviser was vast. He reportedly met the president daily whenever both were in Washington. "New Yorker" journalist Nicholas Lemann reported that Rove "appears to have supervisory authority over the Republican National Committee and was playing an important role in forming Bush's domestic policy". James Carney and John F. Dickerson of "Time" agreed. "There are few decisions, from tax cuts to judicial nominations to human cloning, in which Rove is not directly involved," they wrote.

In February 2005, Bush promoted Rove to deputy chief of staff. He began devising a legislative strategy that he hoped would help to create support for an enduring Republican majority, including appointing conservative judges and reforming and partially privatising Social Security.

After the 2004 election, Rove declared that he would not be involved in any more presidential campaigns, but he retreated from the statement soon after. Even if he was never the dominant strategist for another presidential candidate, few observers expected his ambitions to end with Bush's presidency.

Compiled from

This column aims to profile personalities who made the news once but have now faded from the spotlight.

What he said:

Somebody gets to be smart and somebody gets to be dumb. If we win, it'll be because of the president. And if we lose, it'll be because of me.

I think it's dawning on some Democrats that obstructing the Patriot Act, like they've been obstructing everything else, is bad for them politically.

If you really want to diminish a candidate, depict him as the foil of his handler. This is as old in American politics as politics itself.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Mar 2, 2016
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