Washington Prowler

Groovy Kind of Rove

Playing reporters for fools (again). Plus: Throwing Rice in California.

By 7.1.03

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NO MORE PLAYING RICE
Republicans in California indicated to White House staffers during President Bush's recent fundraising swing out there last week that they expect the recall of Gov. Gray Davis to be successful and that actor Arnold Schwarzenegger will step in and challenge for the position.

"Everything he's been saying in the buildup to his new movie indicates he's in campaign mode," says an L.A.-based Republican fundraiser. "We don't have anything definitive, but we think he's going to do it."

Schwarzenegger probably won't be alone. Rep. Dan Issa has pumped some of his own money into the recall funding, and has talked about challenging Davis (who has already smeared Issa in planted stories). There also continue to be rumblings among some state party loyalists that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice should not be overlooked. But it appears Rice's timing may be off. She is viewed as a critical player in the Bush Administration's Middle East peace efforts, which will certainly carry her through 2003. But if she doesn't run for governor now, another window might be closing.

Should a Republican win the recall election, that person would be positioned to run for re-election in 2006. "Sometimes the timing isn't right," says the fundraiser. "This is the kind of thing that sometimes leads to unexpected, or new, opportunities."

Like a vice presidential slot should Bush win re-election and Vice President Cheney choose to retire mid-way through the second term.

POWER POINTS
Much was made of a recent speech White House political strategist Karl Rove made in Texas to Republican grassroots organizers. The national media were crowing over Rove's seeming misstep of holding what was supposed to be a "closed door" and "private" strategy session with state and national party workers, but then speaking loud enough for a Dallas Morning News reporter to overhear his remarks. Other media portrayed the reporter as having cleverly positioned himself surreptitiously to overhear the confidential speech.

But by now, reporters should know that Rove does almost nothing without anticipating what the outcome may be, and usually getting it to play that way. Several reporters have crowed about Rove's leaving them to cool their heels outside his West Wing office, only to forget that they were there while making a phone call that they could overhear.

In the Dallas speech, Rove supposedly didn't want anyone to know that he and the White House were targeting five Democratic stronghold states in 2004, among them Oregon, New Mexico and Minnesota, in the hopes of turning them toward Republicans. Bush narrowly lost New Mexico (due to voter fraud) and Oregon in 2000. Minnesota voted Republican in 2002 statewide elections.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Karl didn't let it all hang out there for the reporter to get," says a longtime associate. "He loves doing that kind of stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't put out cookie crumbs for the reporter to follow right up to the correct door. He doesn't leave much to chance."

A year ago reporters said similar things about Rove, particularly when the Democratic National Committee claimed to have found a computer disc that held the White House strategy for the 2002 election cycle and predicted tough going. The disc was said to have been found after Rove and his associate Ken Mehlman, now Bush 2004 campaign manager, gave pessimistic assessments to a closed-door meeting of Republicans big-wigs at the Hay-Adams hotel. As it turned out, their famous PowerPoint presentation bore little resemblance to the campaign waged by Republicans to retake the Senate and widen their margin in the House.

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