Karl Rove on Election Eve.
HH: Hello, Karl.
KR: How are you, man?
HH: Great, thank you. Karl, you’ve been an optimist. What sort of data do you have? And what’s it telling you to justify that optimism?
KR: Well, for the past six weeks or so, I’ve been looking at as many as 68 polls every week, for as many as 68 races for the House, the Senate and governorships. And so I see the national polls, like everybody else does, but I get a chance to look at the data all across the country, and I see in these individual races that candidates have been able to create it as a choice between them and their opponent. Not just on local issues, but on big national issues as well. And as a result, it gives me a sense of optimism that we’ll have a Republican Senate and a Republican House.
HH: What would the margins be? Any ideas yet you want to predict?
KR: I don’t want to get into individual…into predicting that, but I’m not going to be a prognosticator there. But I just…I feel good about the Senate, and the House is a race by race, district by district battle, that when you add it up, I see us with a majority. And it’s not going to be pretty, and it’s required a lot of effort, but our candidates have been sterling, and the involvement of the national figures, the President, the Vice President, the First Lady, Senator McCain, Governor Romney, Mayor Giuliani, has just been terrific in helping make certain that our candidates have the resources to fight the battle, and then air cover to help them explain the message.
HH: Karl Rove, one week ago, Senator John Kerry said the following:
JK: You know, education…if you make the most of it, you study hard, and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.
HH: What’s the impact of that statement been, in the data that you’ve been examining?
KR: Well, it’s hard to say, because it happened so late in the week that people didn’t have much out there in the way of tracking. Most of the Republican candidates stopped tracking on Thursday night. Some of them went back into the field on Sunday night. But I think it’s been significant, just anecdotally, the speed with which the famed photograph from the Minnesota National Guard made its way around the internet. It just reminded people that there is within…there are elements within the Democratic Party, near the top of its leadership, who have a fundamental hostility to the American military. And he can dress this up all he likes. His immediate response was to say that anybody who thought this was an attack on the military was stupid. Well, the military thought that. Witness the picture from Iraq and a lot of others. And you’ll notice that he could make the charge in his own voice, he could make the issue, this inflammatory statement, backed up by a news conference, in which he went after the White House, saying he wasn’t going to be Swift Boated. He could go on Imus and continue to defend it, but when it came time to issue the apology, Senator Kerry issued a written statement.
HH: Do you believe it was an apology, Karl Rove?
KR: Well, I’m going to take it as such. But you know, I thought it was interesting that he couldn’t bring himself to come out and face onto the camera and say you know, I made a mistake, I’m sorry, I apologize to our men and women in Iraq.
HH: A lot of military have not accepted it as such, but I’ll leave it up to them.
KR: Yeah. Do you know the other thing, Hugh…
KR: …was I noticed the New York Times continued to repeat the same mindset in its editorial, in which it said of course the President of the United States knew this was a botched joke aimed at him, not an insult for the military. In essence, anybody…you know, they repeated the sort of tone that Kerry had, that everybody knew this was an attack on the President, and anybody who took it as an insult on the military were themselves stupid.
HH: That is, in fact, what also the Washington Post said and the New Republic. Karl Rove, expectations regarding turnout, vis-a-vis 2004 and 2002?
KR: Well, my sense is more than 2002, but significantly less than 2004. That’s just the nature of the cycle. We’re in the off year, so we won’t be close to the 60% turnout that we had in 2004, but I suspect we’ll be in the sort of the high range of turnout, meaning the high 30’s, maybe as big as 40%.
HH: And as you go into the three big groups, Democrat, Independent, Republican, vis-a-vis 2002. Will all three of those do better? Or will the Republican turnout do significantly better than any Democratic increase?
KR: I think the Republicans will increase over ’02. I think the Democrats will increase over ’02. I think that what will happen is that we’re likely to see more independents sit out this election.
HH: All right, so much more polarized election. In 2004, the President won the Mass-attending Catholic vote. Have you got data on how Catholics are assessing 2006 choices?
KR: I don’t have good data. I’ve got some in individual races, which is far more…which speaks more to the local conditions than to national conditions. But it does look again like most local Republican candidates have been able to maintain the strength among the Catholic voters that, as you know, is the largest group of independent or swing voters in the country.
HH: Now Karl Rove, you’ve got the Hispanic vote out there. The President’s done very well with it. It’s been absolutely essential to keep reminding the Hispanic voting community that it’s a great program that the President’s put forward in terms of legalization and a border security. Has that affected, though…the debate that’s been going on has often been not civil, despite the President’s attempt to keep it so. Has that affected Hispanic turnout, or Hispanic voting?
KR: I don’t know about a Hispanic turnout. I do think that individual Republican candidates are going to look back after this election and find that the rhetoric that they adopted hurt them in the Hispanic community. And we’re going to find other candidates who are going to look back and find that the rhetoric that they adopted by emphasizing a comprehensive solution to our border problems won them support in the Hispanic community. So I think there’s going to be…again, this race is going to be largely dominated by choices between two individual candidates running for the same office, and less by national issues. Now national issues will intrude, but they will intrude in the frame of a choice between the two individual candidates. And in that instance, I think immigration will be seen as…a comprehensive approach will be seen as a winner, and a narrow restrictionist approach will be seen as a loser.
HH: One more demographics before some specifics. The President did not win the youth vote in 2004, the only major demographic he didn’t carry. Do you see data that would reflect that again in terms of individual races for, say, the United States Senate?
KR: I think that’s likely to happen again, though by smaller margins. But look, you understand that, because look, the young are those that most keenly feel war. I mean, they see their classmates or their colleagues going off to volunteer for war, and it concerns them. So I understand why that was the case in ’04, and the data I’ve seen this time around is that the same effect, though not to the same degree, is present in ’06.
HH: I’m talking with Karl Rove, assistant to the President. There’s been no coordinated attack within the United States since 2001 from terrorists, Karl Rove. Is that a front of the mind, or a back of the shelf issue in this cycle?
KR: I think it depends upon whether or not candidates have attempted to make it a front of the mind issue. I think it’s easy to make it such, because reminding people of 9/11, and reminding them that we’ve not been attacked, and making the case that one of the reasons we’ve not is that we’ve stayed on the offense against the enemy abroad, and that we’ve given law enforcement intelligence agencies valuable new tools to disrupt, to detect and disrupt plots, namely the Patriot Act, the terrorist surveillance program, the financial monitoring, and then of course the CIA interrogation program, which we’ve had legislative battles on these. And as a result, we have lots of Democrats on the record with their vote. And on the campaign, we’ve had a lot of Democrats get on the record with their statements about these vital tools. So…and about the overall approach. I mean, there are lots of Democrat candidates who still feel that this is not a global war, that this is…that we’re not in a war, we’re in a law enforcement action. And they refuse to agree to the argument that we need to provide…that we’re in a different kind of war, and we need to provide law enforcement and our intelligence and our military with new tools to stay on the offense.
HH: Karl Rove, the Human Events has published some speculation about justices on the Supreme Court being ill. Have you heard anything about that?
KR: I have not, other than the Human Events article.
HH: All right. There are eight Senate races, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Missouri, Tennessee, Michigan, Minnesota and Washington State, which I’ll be following tomorrow night. I don’t want to walk you through all eight. We don’t have enough time to do that. But what’s your sense of those races? Which ones are you going to be following as the bellwether?
KR: Well, first of all, there will be a Republican Senate. I feel very good about Arizona, I feel very good about Tennessee. Feel very good about Missouri. Feel very good about Virginia. That gets us to 51. The question is do we pick up beyond that, and obviously, Rhode Island is a good opportunity, Pennsylvania, Santorum is a fighter. Montana, Conrad Burns has now moved into a dead heat, and because that data was towards the end of last week, I suspect he’s now moved ahead. And then there’s something odd going on in Michigan. There has been, over the last week, a strong push for the Republicans in Michigan. There’s a pollster named Steve Mitchell, who does polling almost exclusively in Michigan, the Epic Poll, and he called the 2000 Presidential race on the button, he called the 2002 gubernatorial race on the button. He called the 2004 Presidential race on the button. And he’s shown in the last week a dramatic close by the Republican candidates for both governor and Senator. Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos is down only two, and Michael Bouchard down, as I believe, three points in the Senatorial race, which are dramatic cuts in the Democrat lead.
KR: So Bouchard in particular, is a very attractive candidate for the Senate, because he’s the sheriff of Oakland County, the large suburban, one of the large suburban counties outside of Detroit. It’s the quintessential swing county in the state. If a Republican wins statewide, it is because they do well in Oakland County. He’s the sheriff. He also previously served in the legislature, where he was an accomplished legislator. So he understands the legislative process, and he’s got a big suburban base. And he’s been an articulate advocate of why Debbie Stabenow’s approach to politics in Washington, with higher taxes, more spending, more regulation, more junk lawsuits, greater barriers to trade, why these are all bad for the Michigan economy, which as you know, Michigan is the only state in the last 12 months that has failed to create jobs.
HH: Now I am very pleased to hear you talk about Michigan, Virginia and Missouri. I’m worried about Missouri about fraud, Karl Rove, and obviously, that happened in 2000, and there were problems in 2004. Is the party prepared to keep it clean in Missouri?
KR: Well, I was in Missouri on Friday, and met with some of the leaders of the campaign there, and talked to others, and they are well aware of the problem. They’re on top of it. They have lots of good boards of elections, which they feel will do a good job of providing an honest vote, but they also have a large number of lawyers that are standing by, trained and ready to intervene, because as you remember in 2000, they literally went to a judge in St. Louis, and got selected polls in African-American Democratic areas, kept open longer so that they could try and count us out. It didn’t happen, but nonetheless, is was a lesson which they will not forget easily and soon in Missouri.
HH: And Virginia, you’re confident about Allen? Because Democrats would have us believe that Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio are lost.
KR: Well, you know, it’s interesting. The Washington Post, you’ve got to remember the mindset. Most of the people who are commenting on these races live inside the Beltway, and get the coverage of the Washington Post. The Washington Post coverage of Virginia is so elitist, it’s unbelievable. They ran an article, which was one of the most revealing pieces of journalism I’ve seen. They ran it in the Style section, but the fact that the editors of the Post would consider this useful material….it contrasted Northern Virginia, NVA, with what they called the rest of Virginia, ROVA. And they said that language in Northern Virginia meant something different than the rest of Virginia. For example, they said in Northern Virginia, when you said the word lab, you were referring to your dog, your family dog. Whereas in the rest of Virginia, use the word lab, you were talking about the place where you cooked up methamphetamine.
KR: And I think that is indicative of how the Washington Post, and hence, a lot of people who read the Washington Post, understand Virginia, which is only through the eyes of what’s inside the Beltway in Northern Virginia. And George Allen was an accomplished governor of the state, and has served the state ably as both a Congressman and as a Senator, and people have not forgotten it. That’s why the dean of the African-Americans in the Virginia Senate has courageously crossed party lines and has endorsed Allen for re-election.
HH: That’s good news. Senators Santorum and DeWine…possible?
KR: Possible, particularly Santorum’s out there battling away, and has a very effective get out the vote operation. The polls in Ohio have shown a dramatic closing of the race here in the last couple of weeks. DeWine is a very, you know, sort of independent minded Republican. He’s been caught up in the rest of the morass that’s affected the Republican Party there, but he’s running a very good campaign, and is a very decent guy, and we have a very effective get out the vote operation in a lot of places in Ohio.
HH: Difficult House races in Florida 16 and Texas 22nd, because they’re so difficult to get the rules straight. Did the message on how to win get through in those two districts, Karl Rove?
KR: Absolutely. In fact, I was talking with friends who’ve been watching the race carefully in Texas, and the President was down there recently. And the early voting, which closed this weekend, is about…ahead of where it was in 2002, and particularly so in the Republican areas. People, the anecdotal evidence is that the people went into the polling booths…you’re allowed to take into the polls in Texas, a piece of paper with names of write-in candidates, plus the names of the write-in candidates are posted in the polling places. And the anecdotal evidence is all 13 early voting locations in Harris County, for example, were manned around the clock with people handing out material for Sheila Sekula Gibbs. But the anecdotal reports were that people walked up waiving their colored pieces of paper that they received in the mail in order to vote for her, and that people spent a lot of time in the polling places. There’s a recent poll that indicated that nearly three quarters of the people in the district knew that they had to write in her name in order to vote for her, and that they she was leading 53-38, with 5 points for the libertarian, and four points undecided.
HH: And in Florida, Joe Negron?
KR: Joe Negron is…I just was with Jeb Bush in Pensacola. He’d just come from, in the last day or so, being with Joe Negron. He’s absolutely convinced he’s going to win. I turned to Mel…Senator Mel Martinez, and said is the governor on target here? And Mel said don’t ask me, because Joe Negron is one of my great friends, and I’m campaigning for him, and yeah, absolutely he’s going to win. And he’s got a good campaign line. Punch Foley to vote for Negron. And he’s a very enthusiastic and outgoing accomplished legislator with a lot of support. I do know this, that about 44% of the people in Florida 16 are registered Republicans, and yet registered Republicans are responsible for 60% of the absentee ballots that have been returned.
KR: And about 35% or 40% of the vote will be cast absentee.
HH: Last question, Karl Rove. You’ve had a lot of experience with the media. They called Florida wrong for Gore in 2000, the data was dirty on 2004. What’s your opinion of their role over the last three months in this election, and should we be on our guard against dirty data tomorrow?
KR: We should be on guard against dirty data, and we should also be on guard against them attempting to, deliberately or not, to affect the outcome of the House races nationwide, because look, it’s a big country. This thing is going to come down to literally the final seats on the West Coast, and voters, particularly in California, need to know that their vote is going to matter, and that they need to go out and vote, and we need to discourage the national networks from doing what they did in 2000, and that is depressing turnout in the West by prematurely calling the election in the East.
HH: Karl Rove, a pleasure to talk to you. I hope we catch up with you. Good luck, and thanks.
KR: Thank you, Hugh.
HH: Take care.
End of interview.