Karl Rove Takes Credit For Obama's Success; Report

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[Election 2008]

If Barack Obama wins the American presidential election in nine days’ time, it will be because he has beaten the Republicans at their own game, according to Karl Rove, the noted “architect” of President George W Bush’s two victories.

The Democrats have copied Rove’s formidable tactics and ground operation, pumping out a disciplined message, assembling a broad-based coalition which includes young first-time voters and African-Americans, and drowning their Republican opponents with money.

“I’ve got to tell you, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Rove said in an interview. “I can say, I’m deeply flattered.”

Rove recalled how Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, outlined their electoral strategy at the Democratic convention in August: “He explicitly said we have deliberately copied the army of persuasion of the Republicans.”

The results can be seen in the long queues for early voting in western and southern states and a series of national polls pointing to the emphatic election of America’s first black president. They could herald the dawn of “Obamaland” – Democratic control of the White House, the Senate and House of Representatives – offering the Illinois senator the chance to shape the nation for a generation.

Democrats are daring to dream of a “liberal super-majority” not seen since the eras of Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal in the 1930s, and Lyndon B Johnson in the 1960s, who set out to transform education, welfare and civil rights under the rubric of the Great Society.

If the Democrats can win an extra nine Senate seats – still a long shot, Rove believes – they will have a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority and will be able to pass any legislation they like. “I feel like we got a righteous wind at our backs,” Obama said in Virginia last week.

Several well-known Republican senators, such as Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, are under threat. The greater the bloodbath, the more leftwingers such as Al Franken, a comedian and radio host who is running for the Senate in Minnesota, may be elected.

“If the US really is entering a period of unchecked leftwing ascendancy, Americans at least ought to understand what they will be getting,” The Wall Street Journal commented. It listed universal healthcare, greater regulation of business and industry, the restoration of union power and substantially higher taxes as likely consequences.

While the Democrats cannot quite believe their luck, the “precriminations” among Republicans are already underway, with accusations flying inside John McCain’s campaign about the wisdom of choosing the charismatic but flawed Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate as well as the crippling lack of a coherent message, organisation and funds. Obama spent $82m on advertising in the first two weeks of October, crushing McCain in some areas by seven to one.

“The first step if the party loses is to say the candidate has let us down. The second step is to say the people have let us down, and only slowly do you wake up to the idea that maybe ‘we’ let them down,” said David Frum, a former White House official under George W Bush, who believes the party is suffering from an ideas deficit. “Emotions are running high and we need an attitude of amnesty and oblivion to anything people are saying in the last weeks of the election.”

Battle lines are being drawn ahead of a possible Republican rout. Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host, said furiously last week: “There are a bunch of people off our reservation in the conservative media.” Casting Frum and other respected conservative pundits into the political wilderness for finding fault with Palin, he added: “I don’t know to what extent they were ever really on our side, to tell you the truth.”

The revelation that the Republican National Committee spent about $150,000 (£94,000) on Palin’s designer wardrobe, $36,000 on her make-up artist and $19,000 on her hairdresser has detracted from the Alaska governor’s folksy, moose-hunting image. Her standing among independent women voters, a key target group, has declined by 24 points since the Republican convention in early September, according to a poll in The Washington Post.

On the road, however, she continues to hold McCain’s ramshackle campaign together, drawing enthusiastic crowds to rallies and galvanising voters who would like to see her run for president in 2012 if the Arizon a senator is defeated.

Rove believes Palin, 44, remains “an enormous plus” for the party. “She has been a much bigger help than a hindrance,” he said. However, he believes she will need to raise her game if she wants to be a future leader of the party.

“There will be a different standard for her,” he said. “When you’re fresh and new, people make allowances for you. If you’re a first-time candidate, you are not expected to know the name of South Ossetia or Abkhazia. When you come back on the stage, you’re expected to have a higher degree of sophistication, knowledge and ability.”

A number of Obamacons – Republicans for Obama – have been lining up behind the Democrat alongside Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since he criticised McCain’s judgement and selection of Palin last weekend.

As if to confirm Obama’s charge of recklessness, McCain and his running mate both called to offer sympathy last week to Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old student campaign volunteer, after she claimed to have been mugged by a crazed Obama supporter, who carved B into her cheek. She turned out to be a fantasist who had cut herself.

The cool and collected Rove is not ready to read McCain’s last rites yet, pointing to a poll last week by AP showing Obama, 47, just one point ahead. “I’m one of these people who really dreads in advance of the election proclaiming with clarity and conviction that we know how it is going to turn out,” he said.

He believes McCain, 72, can confound his critics and emerge the victor if he hammers Obama on the threat of higher taxes and national security, two areas of traditional weakness for Democrats. “Wanting to raise taxes – anyone’s taxes – in a slowdown is a warning sign of a misguided economic philosophy,” Rove commented recently.

McCain took up the theme in Denver, Colorado on Friday, warning that “the answer to a slowing economy is not higher taxes, but that is exactly what is going to happen if the Democrats have total control of Washington”. He has one last week of campaigning to press the point home.

The electoral map on Rove’s own influential website shows pivotal states such as Ohio, Virginia and Colorado, which voted for Bush in 2004, tumbling to Obama. According to his projection, if the election were held tomorrow, the Illinois senator would win 306 electoral college votes to McCain’s 171, with 61 too close to call. A RealClear Politics polling average showed Obama leading McCain by 50% to 42% this weekend.

Could Rove’s dream of a permanent Republican majority give way to a sweeping Democratic victory? With more than 30 states voting early, Obama’s get-out-the-vote operation is already flexing its muscles. Nearly a million people have cast their votes in Georgia and more than 600,000 in Florida. It could be a sign ofa coming “electoral tsunami” for Obama, according to Rove – or merely proof that reliable voters have cast their ballots early.

In North Carolina, formerly a solidly Republican state, 210,000 African-Americans registered as Democrats have already voted, compared witha total of 174,000 registered Republicans of all races. Blacks have made up 31% of early voters so far, even though they form 21% of the population.
A Republican campaign official told ABC News: “It’s a whole different game . . . it’s a new paradigm . . . it’s scary.”

Some Democrats have gleefully proclaimed “the death of Rovian politics” after the attacks on Obama’s radical associations, such as his relationship with William Ayers, the former leader of the terrorist group the Weather Underground, failed to take hold. But they have mistaken the enduring nature of Rove’s influence.
The “architect” believes, on the contrary, that “this campaign is a confirmation on both sides of the best elements of Rovian politics”.

It is a game the Democrats have so far been playing more artfully than the Republicans. McCain wrapped up his party’s nomination in March, but waited until the summer to turn the fire on his opponent with a “celebrity” ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Rove believes the McCain campaign should have defined the Democrat’s weaknesses sooner. “We know people have a tendency to discard things they are hearing at the end of a campaign,” he said. “If you want to establish an argument, it is important to make it in plenty of time so that people can judge whether it is correct.” America still tilts to the right, he added, citing as evidence Obama’s carefully calibrated conservative message.

“This year we’ve got a Democratic candidate whose principal campaign ad is, ‘I’m going to provide a tax cut for 95% of Americans.’
“There is a particularly vicious ad that is now running everywhere saying that McCain wants to raise taxes on your health benefit – it’s not exactly the most liberal of themes,” he observed.

Contrary to legend, the winning coalition for Bush in 2004 relied on far more than simply turning out the Republican party base. “We got 48% of women, 44% of Latinos, 25% of Jews, a majority of Catholics and 38% of union households,” Rove recalled.

When it was put to him that his campaign was broader than McCain’s, he replied: “That’s correct.” Despite McCain’s long-established reputation among independents and “security moms” and his liberal record on immigration, he has turned off Bush’s wider constituency over the course of the campaign.
The shift in the Hispanic vote towards the Democrats could be particularly significant if it leads to an Obama victory in Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada.
The threat of losing the desert and mountain states has left McCain so short of routes to victory that his hopes now largely rest on winning Pennsylvania, where white, blue-collar voters proved resistant to Obama’s charms in the primary against Hillary Clinton.

Most polls give Obama a sizeable double-digit lead in the state, but Ed Rendell, the Pennsylvania governor, declared last week he was “nervous” after seeing internal polls showing McCain just two points behind.

Obama will be heading to Pittsburgh tomorrow, and Rendell has asked him to come back with Bill and Hillary Clinton before the election is over. The Democrats have 80 campaign offices in the state, compared with just over 50 for the Republicans.

Palin travelled last week to western Pennsylvania – an area described with unusual frankness as “redneck” and “racist” by a Democratic congressman – to rally the antiObama forces. In Beaver, a former Republican stronghold surrounded by declining steel towns, she said to cheers: “We’re gonna win this state, I guarantee it.”
Bill Eggert, 54, a car dealer whose sales have slumped this month, was sceptical. But he said fear of Obamaland could put off voters. “I believe socialism is at our back door. They’re going to bring higher taxes, socialised medicine and a socialised energy policy. These are things that could tip us into a Great Depression,” Eggert said.

“It’s tough enough that we’ve already got the burbling idiots in Congress spending our money. If they control the White House as well, where’s the balance going to be?”

The next morning, Palin gave her first policy speech of the campaign on extra help for special-needs children. Gina Mannion, 34, the mother of a two-year-old child with Down’s syndrome, echoed his fears. “I would hate to see socialist healthcare,” she said. “My daughter had to have surgery the day after she was born and heart surgery four months later. I don’t think she would be here today because she wouldn’t be high on the list of priorities.”

Rove is not convinced an Obama administration would be socialist. “If there is an Obama White House, there will be tension with the old bulls in the Senate who will see it as an opportunity to fulfil their long-held personal ambitions.” There could also be tensions with “Blue Dog” Democrats who were elected on a more socially conservative platform.

He recalled that Bill Clinton “ended up in a different place than he wanted after a disastrous first year”, and said Obama was likely to find himself hampered by similar “stresses and strains” within his own party.

“Will an Obama presidency move the country to the left? Yes. How much? We don’t know,” he said. If the polling trends are accurate, it could be the Republicans’ only comfort on election night.


(The Sunday Times of London)

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