The fab four
Meet the people maneuvering behind the scenes to put George W. Bush in the White House.
They aren’t household names — yet. But as George W. Bush’s campaign for the presidency begins in earnest
this week, with campaign swings through Iowa and New Hampshire, the four advisors
closest to Bush are also being introduced to the American public.
Donald Evans, Karen Hughes, Joe Allbaugh and Karl Rove are orchestrating Bush’s run for the White House.
All of them are white, close to Bush in age, Southern-educated and have extensive political risumis.
Together, they form the nucleus of the Bush for President campaign, each with their clearly defined role:
the money, the mouth, the muscle and the mind. And over the next 18 months, the world will find out
whether they have the formula to make George Walker Bush the next president of the United States.
Donald Evans — The Money
Of the four, Evans is the closest to Bush on a personal level. A millionaire oil man, Evans, 52, may be
Bush’s closest friend. The two met in Midland during Bush’s less-than-stellar stint in the oil business. The
longtime chairman and CEO of Tom Brown Inc., a Midland oil and gas company, Evans’ stake in the
company is worth more than $10 million, and his contacts with other wealthy people and potential campaign
contributors make him a key player in Bush’s camp.
Evans’ golden Rolodex explains why Bush tapped him to head the fund-raising operation during
both of Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns. As his reward, Bush appointed Evans to the board of regents at the
University of Texas, a prestigious position in which Evans oversees one of the largest public university
systems in America. Recently, Evans moved to Austin to serve as Bush’s national finance chairman. He
helped organize the Pioneers, a group of 150 Bush backers who have pledged to raise $100,000. Evans
recently described the Pioneer plan as “a pyramid of sorts. One person calls 10, 20 or 50 people and then
asks those people to call 10, 20 or 50 people.” All of those people write $1,000 checks, the maximum
individual contribution for presidential candidates.
The Bush campaign hopes to raise more than $50 million so it can avoid federal spending limits. It already
has an estimated $15 million. Evans has said that the goal in political fund-raising is to “raise money early
and spend it late.” So far, that plan is working and much of the credit belongs to Evans.
Karen Hughes — The Mouth
If Bush prevails next November, Hughes may be the next White House press secretary. A summa cum laude graduate of Southern Methodist
University in Dallas, Hughes is what one source inside the campaign calls Bush’s “touchstone. He has a
great deal of trust in her. He is more comfortable when she’s around.” A fast-talking former reporter at
KXAS-TV in Fort Worth, Hughes, 43, can sometimes be seen mouthing the words to Bush’s speeches as he
delivers them. Indeed, the two share what may be the closest thing to the Vulcan mind-meld. In February,
Hughes told a reporter that she knows Bush so well that whenever he is asked a question, “the vast
majority of the time, I can predict what his reaction is going to be.”
Hughes, the Bush campaign’s communications director, has spent a lot of time coaching her candidate on
interacting with the press. It shows. Bush’s ability to remember reporters and call them by their first
names is uncanny. He appears to have a prepared answer for every question and he always acts relaxed
Hughes played a key role in choreographing Bush’s March 7 coming-out party at which the candidate
presented his star-studded exploratory committee. It was more of a coronation than a campaign event.
There were Texas flags, American flags, blue curtains, theatrical lights. It looked like it was produced at
the State Department, not some cavernous ballroom at the Austin Convention Center. Asked afterward
about the event, Hughes said she was in charge of what she called “the stage design, the set.” Obviously,
Hughes knows how to make sure her candidate is presented in the best possible light. She will be Bush’s
liaison to the insatiable national media monster if and when its honeymoon with Bush comes to an end.
Joe Allbaugh — The Muscle
While Hughes represents the finesse part of Bush’s strategy, Allbaugh represents the muscle. At 6-foot-4
and 270 pounds, Allbaugh, who sports a crew cut and is usually wearing cowboy boots, looks more like a
Marine drill instructor than a political operative. In fact, one source in the Bush campaign calls him
“Sgt. Rock.” Though Allbaugh’s business cards say he’s Bush’s campaign manager, his real job is chief
enforcer. With his intimidating size and sandpaper demeanor, Allbaugh plays the bad cop to perfection.
Allbaugh managed Bush’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign before being named Bush’s chief of staff. Before
coming to Texas, he was the deputy secretary of transportation in Oklahoma. A veteran of campaigns in 39
states, Allbaugh, 46, is a graduate of Oklahoma State University.
While he’s a key player in Bush’s campaign, Allbaugh does carry some baggage. A lawsuit filed against the
state in March by a former state employee alleges that Allbaugh tried to intimidate her into halting an
ongoing investigation into several funeral homes. According to the suit, Allbaugh called the woman, Eliza
May, into his office, where he and others demanded that she reveal details of her investigation while the
owner of the funeral company sat in the same office. Although Allbaugh is not a defendant in the suit, he will
be a key witness. His first deposition in the suit will be taken over the next few weeks. Depending on what
emerges, the suit could be embarrassing for Allbaugh and Bush, who will also be deposed in the suit.
Karl Rove — The Mind
Evans, Hughes and Allbaugh are vital components of the Bush operation, but Rove, Bush’s chief strategist,
is without a doubt the campaign’s most important asset. Rove’s ties with the Bush family go back to 1973,
when he was chairman of the college Republicans, and the chairman of the state GOP was an oil man from
Texas named George Herbert Walker Bush. Four years later, Rove was the first person the elder Bush hired
when he decided to run for president. Rove has another claim to fame: He introduced the late Lee Atwater to
former President Bush. Atwater went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee and one
of Bush’s closest political advisors.
Rove has been guiding the younger Bush’s political trajectory since the candidate’s first shaky press
conferences in November 1993, when he announced he was running against the popular incumbent,
Democratic Gov. Ann Richards.
A 48-year-old political junkie who has attended nearly half a dozen colleges but never got a degree, Rove
now teaches graduate students at the University of Texas. Given his credentials, Rove has plenty to teach.
Nine years ago, Texas was dominated by Democrats. Today, it’s ruled by Republicans. Every statewide
elected office is held by a Republican and many of those officeholders owe their success to
Rove. During the November election, he advised a half-dozen candidates. All of them won.
Rove has a long history in Texas politics. He worked for Bill Clements, the Republican who broke the
Democrats’ century-long stranglehold on the governor’s office in 1978. Four years later, Rove began
working for Phil Gramm, who was in the U.S. House of Representatives and a Democrat; two years
later he helped get Gramm elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican. During the 1984 election, Rove did
direct-mail work for the Reagan-Bush campaign. Two years later, he helped Clements win a second stint in
the governor’s office. In 1988, Rove advised Tom Phillips, who became the first Republican ever elected to
the Texas Supreme Court (within a decade, the GOP would take all nine seats). Mark McKinnon, a consultant
who used to work for Democrats and now directs Bush’s media effort, calls Rove the “Bobby Fischer of
politics. He not only sees the board, he sees about 20 moves ahead.”
Bush values Rove’s contributions. In a January interview, Bush called Rove “a close friend of mine” and
“confidant” who has “good judgment.” But that good judgment does not come cheap. The first financial
disclosure form released by Bush’s presidential exploratory committee shows that the committee paid
Rove’s consulting firm $220,228. That’s nearly a quarter of all the money the committee spent from
January to the end of March. Rove has since sold his consulting firm to devote all his energy to Bush’s
But Rove doesn’t mind. Last year, he told a Florida reporter how happy he is to be working for Bush, calling
him “the kind of candidate and officeholder political hacks like me wait for a lifetime to be associated with.”
Rove may consider himself a hack, but if Bush wins, Rove will become a star. And Evans, Allbaugh and
Hughes will be standing right next to him, basking in the limelight.
Robert Bryce is the managing editor of Energy Tribune. His latest book is Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence."More Robert Bryce.
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