Rove devises strategy to put Republicans back in power

Rove clashes at times with Tea Party movement activists. Rove clashes at times with Tea Party movement activists.
By Jim Rutenberg
New York Times / September 26, 2010

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WASHINGTON — In 2004, the Republican master strategist Karl Rove led weekly sessions at his Washington townhouse where, over big plates of “eggies’’ and bacon slabs, he planned the reelection of President George W. Bush — and what he hoped would be lasting Republican dominion over Democrats.

In April, Rove summoned several of the key players behind Bush’s ascendance to his house once again, this time to draw up plans to push a Republican resurgence.

Over takeout chicken pot pies, the group — Fred V. Malek, the longtime Republican fund-raiser, Ed Gillespie, the onetime lobbyist and Bush White House counselor, and Mary Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter, among others — agreed on plans for an ambitious new political machine that would marshal the resources of disparate business, nonprofit, and interest groups to bring Republicans back to power this fall.

When he left the White House in 2007, Democrats rejoiced at what they believed would be the end of Rove’s political career and the brand of Republicanism he espoused.

This election season is proving that he is back — if he ever left at all.

The landscape has changed, with Rove at times clashing with potent new Tea Party movement-style activists, some of whom view him as a face of the old party establishment they want to upend.

Already a prominent presence as an analyst on Fox News Channel and a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, Rove is also playing a leading role in building what amounts to a shadow Republican Party, a network of donors and operatives that is among the most aggressive players in the Republican effort to capture control of the House and Senate.

He has taken a major role in helping to summon the old coalition of millionaires and billionaires who supported Bush and have huge financial stakes in regulatory and tax policy, like Harold C. Simmons, the leveraged buyout magnate in Texas whose holdings include a major waste management firm that handles some radioactive materials; Carl H. Lindner Jr., the Cincinnati businessman whose American Financial Group includes several property and casualty insurance concerns; and Robert B. Rowling, whose TRT Holdings owns Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym.

Their personal and corporate money — as well as that of other donors who have not been identified — has gone to outside groups Rove helped form with Gillespie, including American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which in turn are loosely affiliated with similar groups staffed or backed by other operatives and donors with ties to Rove.

With $32 million and counting, they are now filling the void created by the diminished condition of the Republican National Committee, which has faced fund-raising difficulties under its embattled chairman, Michael Steele.

“A lot of what we’re doing would normally be done with the RNC,’’ said Cheney, who is part of a group working with the organizations Rove helped start on encouraging early voting in House races this fall. “There’s no money there.’’

Crossroads officials say they are seeking to supplement party activities, not replace them.

Plans at American Crossroads include an anti-Democratic barrage of attack advertisements that will be seen tens of thousands of times, a final get-out-the-vote push with some 40 million negative mail pieces, and 20 million automated phone calls, officials there say.

“They’re running a very proficient party operation funded by millions of dollars of undisclosed, special interest dollars,’’ said David Axelrod, a special adviser to President Obama.

Referring to Rove and Gillespie, he added, “These guys are great political operatives, and they will have an impact in this election.’’