Karl Rove, the chief strategist for George W. Bush's campaign, was proven right Tuesday night. And his relief at his candidate's crushing victory over John McCain was evident as he stood, smiling and loquacious, inside the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin shaking hands with campaign staffers as Bush supporters filed out of the hotel ballroom.
Just two weeks ago, after Bush's stunning loss to McCain in the Michigan primary, rumors spread that Rove, Bush's longtime political strategist, would be shown the door. That seemed to disappear for good Tuesday. Now Rove's job, according to him, sounds disarmingly simple. All Bush needs to do to secure a path to 1600 Pennsylvania is raise more money, attack Gore on every front, especially his ties to soft money and President Clinton, and finally, hit Gore hard in the state he absolutely cannot afford to lose, California.
Despite Bush's huge loss in New Hampshire and his later losses in Michigan and Arizona, Rove said he never had any doubts his expensive nationwide strategy, which burned through more than $50 million and was based on establishing campaign organizations in as many primary states as possible, would work. The immediate challenge for Bush, said Rove, is to raise enough money to replenish Bush's depleted campaign coffers. But the super-confident Rove contends that Bush has "200,000 donors who have given an average of $300, and many of them are more than capable and willing to give more, up to the $1,000 limit."
During his press conference at the Texas Capitol Tuesday morning, Bush made certain to mention Gore's connections to campaign fund-raising abuses, pointing out that Maria Hsia, who helped Gore raise money at a Buddhist temple in Los Angeles four years ago, was indicted and recently convicted of breaking federal fund-raising laws. When told of Bush's comments on Tuesday night, Gore countered that the Bush campaign had relied heavily on soft money during the primaries.
That caused Rove to sputter, his mile-a-minute patter shifting into triple-warp speed. "We will believe the vice president is serious about it when he tells Bill Clinton to get off the road and stop raising soft money. Last week they boasted of raising $2 million in California. He's stepping up his fund-raising activities on behalf of Gore," blurted Rove without stopping for air. "Al Gore is willing to say anything to get elected and his comment tonight about soft money in the face of President Clinton's vacuum-cleaner operation across the country in soft money is laughable."
Despite recent revelations that tie Texas tycoons Sam and Charles Wyly to several Bush campaign insiders, Rove insisted that the Bush campaign is not worried about any possible investigations into the $2.5 million worth of TV ads the Wylys bought to tout Bush's environmental record in Texas to voters in Ohio, California and New York.
The McCain campaign has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, claiming Bush illegally coordinated the ads. Rove denied it was anything the campaign needed to worry about. "That's the Wyly brother's problem not ours," Rove said. "What the Department of Justice ought to be looking into, in detail, is the [Clinton administration's] 1996 fund-raising scandal that's been largely swept under the rug."
In addition to the fund-raising questions, Bush will attack Gore on what Rove called "eight years of the status quo." And without naming specific instances, he said Bush will attack Gore on the Clinton administration's "disasters in foreign policy" and on a "spend, spend, spend fiscal policy. He's got to bear responsibility for all of that."
Bush's message to voters over the coming months will be more of the same: reform the welfare and education systems, cut taxes and strengthen the military. Rove also said that Bush will hammer away on his "uniter, not a divider" line. Expect to hear more about Bush's accomplishments in Texas and his ability to get bipartisan cooperation on legislative issues. "He can bring Democrats and Republicans together to achieve big things. We've done it here in Texas and we can do it in Washington, D.C.," Rove said.
According to Rove, Bush will now target states that have belonged to the Democrats in recent years, including Arizona and Florida, which Rove predicted will be "comfortably in our column this time around." He also said Bush will target Louisiana and Great Lakes states like Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. But the big target is California. Bush can win the White House without winning California, Rove said. "Gore can't."
How will Bush win it? "By campaigning actively out there, and demonstrating that on issues like education, and issues that concern the high-tech community and issues that are important to the Latino community, George Bush is going to demonstrate that he stands with the people of California."
The special appeal to Latinos, Rove said, will be built around education and an open inclusive philosophy on immigration. Just to make sure reporters understood, Rove added, "We are coming for California. We're going to make it easy; we are going to win California. Between California, Texas and Florida, we'll have 40 percent of the electoral college votes needed to win the White House."
It was confident talk from a confident man. But on Tuesday night, Rove had plenty of reasons to be confident.