The silence of the Rove

The president's chief political advisor may not be talking, but that doesn't mean he isn't working.

Published September 5, 2006 12:55PM (EDT)

When the New York Times' Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg set out to write a story on what appears to be Karl Rove's diminishing influence with Republican congressional candidates -- a 38 percent presidential approval rating will do that to you -- they tried to talk with Rove himself. The White House balked.

"The White House said that Mr. Rove would consider an interview for this article if it were conducted off the record, with the provision that quotations could be put on the record with White House approval, a condition it said was set for other interviews with Mr. Rove," Nagourney and Rutenberg report. The Times said no, and the story ran over the weekend without a word from the president's chief political advisor.

That's not to say that Rove has been silent. While GOP candidates may not be in a mood to jump at Rove's every command anymore -- or, at least, they may not want to be seen doing so -- they're more than happy to accept the money he can raise and votes he can help turn out. The Republican National Committee tells the Times that Rove has raised more than $10 million for the party in 75 events in 29 states, and the Republicans' turnout machine is already rumbling into action.

And whether they're willing to admit it or not, Republican leaders in Congress are getting on board with Rove's plan to focus voters on terrorism come November. As Carl Hulse and Rachel Swarns report in the Times today, Republicans will use the brief legislative session between now and Election Day to try to show voters that they are "better equipped" than the Democrats are when it comes to thwarting terrorism.

Immigration reform? It isn't even mentioned in Bill Frist's planning memo for the coming session, Hulse and Swarns say. It may have been a priority for the president in January, but the priority now is to hang onto the House and the Senate, avoiding the embarrassment of defeat and the prospect of two years in which Democrats actually have a say in the national agenda.

While many prognosticators say the Democrats are, as of now, likely to take back the House in November, the Washington Post's Dan Balz and David Broder say that Rove has told an associate that the tide has begun to turn.

The president is giving those terrorism speeches -- well, pretty much the same terrorism speech, but the news networks will focus on each one as if it's something new -- and Republican candidates have barely begun to spend the money they've amassed for November. One Republican strategist tells Balz and Broder that he doesn't know of a single House race in which the GOP candidate has spent more than 20 percent of what he or she plans to spend before Election Day. "The battle is just beginning," the strategist says. "That's what people really forget."

The other thing people forget? The possibility of a September, October or November surprise. "If nothing changes, I think the House will turn," political analyst Charles Cook told the Times the other day. "The key is, if nothing changes." We may not be hearing much from Karl Rove just now, but he still has 63 days to go.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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2006 Elections Karl Rove War Room