If Karl Rove's departure is recorded as the effective and symbolic end of the Bush administration's tenure in active governance (and President Bush did seem a tad envious when he told his friend he'll be following him "on the road behind you in a little bit"), Rove's impact on the 2008 presidential race will be remembered by the yawning GOP silence that greeted his exit from the stage. Where once he was the ultimate guru, the single most sought-after strategist of either party, Rove will be remembered in part for fostering a political environment that made possible the rise of the woman he now thinks is most likely to take the Democratic nomination.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., made a splash yesterday with an Iowa ad (her first television buy of the campaign) that takes direct aim at the Bush/Rove legacy. (Forget bus tours -- they're so second tier.) It's hardly earth-shattering stuff -- ordinary Americans are "not invisible to me," she says (and Clinton herself is far from invisible walking through a corn field in slacks and a jacket) -- but the message works on several levels: Here's a candidate who wants to take on President Bush -- and is ready to take Iowa.
That was not always the case (remember that internal memo about skipping Iowa that seemed to have the ring of truth when it slipped in May), and how Clinton began to solve her Iowa problem is a case-study in old-fashioned organizing (Tom Vilsack and Teresa Vilmain are an impressive team) and persistent messaging. She's tangling with Sen. Barack Obama these days (and he may have provided some fresh ammunition yesterday), but she's mostly floating above the field going into Sunday's ABC debate in Des Moines.
"Mrs. Clinton may be running in the wide-open Democratic primary battle, but this commercial leaves the impression that she is running against President Bush -- which she is, to a degree," writes Patrick Healy of The New York Times. "As a leading Democratic candidate, rather than attacking or elevating her Democratic rivals at this stage, she is trying to score points off an unpopular incumbent president and outline her priorities in broad strokes."
Broad strokes were a Rove trademark -- voters have always known where George W. Bush has stood. In assessing the Rove legacy -- and keeping in mind that a shelf full of books will be written on this subject -- the strategist who earned some colorful nicknames will be remembered in as complicated a fashion as Bush himself. "His advocates credit him with devising a winning strategy twice in a row for a presidential candidate who seemed to start out with myriad weaknesses," write The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut and Michael Shear. "His detractors blame Rove for a style of politics that deepened divisions in the country, even after the unifying attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."
Rove may be remembered most for his divisiveness -- and for the convenient punching bag role he's played for Democrats since Bush assumed the presidency. "The party that bears his imprint faces a difficult question: Can 'Rovism' survive Rove?" write Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times. "Will Rove's unique combination of innovative campaign techniques and polarizing hardball tactics translate into long-term success for his party? Or has it seen its best days?"
As for the short-term impact on the 2008 race, the Republican presidential candidates -- and Bush's allies in Congress -- were hardly rushing to sing Rove's praises, ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "The silence was telling in terms of how much the White House hopefuls resent how much their hopes are being complicated by the unpopular Bush administration, and how chilly relations have grown on Capitol Hill," Tapper writes. Not that Rove wants another political job: "I don't anticipate taking any formal role in any campaign, and if I did I would shortly thereafter die -- check the whereabouts of my wife if I'm found dead," he said yesterday.
The New York Times' Adam Nagourney points out that Bush and Rove were barely mentioned at the Ames Straw Poll, even though virtually all Republican campaigns are populated with Rove proteges. "It has become increasingly clear that the Republican candidates for 2008 are not competing for either the mantle of Mr. Bush or the services of his master strategist," Nagourney writes. In Ames, "the winner of the contest, [Mitt] Romney, offered a grim verdict on these past seven years in Washington -- and arguably on Mr. Rove himself. 'If there has ever been a time that we needed to see change in Washington it is now,' Mr. Romney told Iowa Republicans."
For Democrats, Rove's departure was a chance to pile on. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., captured the sentiment concisely: "Goodbye and good riddance."
The Democratic field is beginning to turn its full attention to Iowa, with ABC's "This Week" debate coming on Sunday. But before Obama gets into town, he'll be explaining another foreign-affairs comment. Referring to US efforts in Afghanistan, Obama, D-Ill., said in New Hampshire, "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there." The Obama campaign says the candidate was referring to recent concerns voiced about "collateral damage" in US military operations. But the comments came shortly after he was publicly warned by a voter to stay positive in his campaign, and his remark "could add fuel to the criticism against him," per the AP's Philip Elliott.
Clinton's Iowa ad upstaged the start of Edwards' bus tour -- but that was probably just as well for Edwards. His week-long tour "stumbled out of the starting gate Monday as dozens of voters waited outside in the heat for more than an hour for the presidential candidate to appear at his Des Moines headquarters," per the Des Moines Register's Tony Leys. His wife, Elizabeth, said her husband was late because she was coping with the fallout of some bad cottage cheese -- but the candidate could have rewarded those who stuck around with a speech that lasted more than eight minutes.
That wasn't Elizabeth Edwards' only impact on the campaign yesterday. In an interview with Progressive magazine, she ripped into her husband's main rivals. Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, she blasted Clinton for not taking a stronger stand against the war: "We're electing the leader of the free world, and just like the votes on this last funding bill, we're looking for a leader." And she questioned Obama's true commitment to ending the war: "Obama gives a speech that's likely to be extraordinarily popular in his home district," she said, "and then comes to the Senate and votes for funding . . . so you are going to get people behaving in a holier-than-thou way." She went on to decry the "familiar tone" of some of Obama's rhetoric: Obama "seems to be using a lot of John's 2004 language, which is maybe not surprising since one of his speechwriters was one of our speechwriters, his media guy was our media guy."
Also in the news:
With a new national poll showing Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., solidifying his lead, the former mayor "will jump back into the debate over immigration policy today" in South Carolina by talking about border security and tamper-proof ID cards, reports David Saltonstall of the New York Daily News. He's pushing back at Romney, "but don't expect him to talk about his days as mayor -- when his policies were all but lifted from his liberal predecessor, Ed Koch," Saltonstall said. Said Koch himself, "He is repudiating the good things that he did [as mayor], to his shame."
Romney, R-Mass., finally yesterday released details of his vast holdings -- and let's just say he can dip into his wallet a few more times. He's worth between $190 million and $250 million (well more than anyone else in the race), and has between $5 million and $25 million in checking accounts (he must really hate bouncing checks). The Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness and Ross Kerber offer a few tidbits for the oppo-research crowd: He earned between $100,001 and $1,000,000 selling MGM-Mirage stock; he owns $50,000 to $100,000 worth of stock in China Petroleum & Chemical, "which has become controversial in the United States because of its links with Sudan"; and his blind trust also includes stock in the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network -- heresy for Red Sox fans.
Romney is profiled by Matthew Cooper in Conde Nast Portfolio, and he offers this observation about the Harvard Business School classmate whom he hopes to succeed to the Oval Office. "I was living in Belmont with a wife and two kids and going home every night to be with them and do my homework. . . . George was at a different phase in his life." Cooper adds this observation: "Romney might be a congenial panderer, but he isn't someone who would look into Vladamir Putin's soul and pronounce him a friend."
Ann Romney will be profiled on ABC's "Nightline" tonight, and she talks about the one political spouse she won't be critical of: Elizabeth Edwards. "Elizabeth and I have talked, and I think we share the same understanding that what our husbands are doing is critically important," Romney, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, tells Cynthia McFadden. "I know she believes -- and I believe, too -- that my husband is the right person for the job. And we are willing to put ourselves out there for that." Regarding her now-famous contribution to Planned Parenthood, she says, the attention on it is "so ridiculous because it doesn't define me, it's not who I am. I wouldn't have done it today."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sat down for an editorial-board meeting with the South Carolina newspaper The State -- and came away with a headline he probably would have rather avoided: "McCain Thinks He Still Has Shot to Win." He said he most likely needs to win two of the first three contests to secure the nomination, and is sick of answering questions about his staff shake-up and money woes. "I've [been] asked frankly about 1,000 questions about" what happened to the campaign, McCain said, per The State's Aaron Gould Sheinin, "and I'm not going to talk about it anymore."
How did former governor Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., finish second in Ames? The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder identifies a few well-known reasons -- his easy manner on the stump, his strong debate performances -- and some that are less well-known including his support among home-schoolers and the Fair Tax crowd. "Of the mainstream Republican candidates, only Huckabee has made the Fair Tax a staple of his domestic policy program," Ambinder writes. And "national home school advocate Michael Farris helped to organize a train of car poolers for Iowa homeschools and points out that Huckabee had two breakfast meetings on Saturday morning with some of his more ardent home-school-parent supporters."
If voters (and opposition researchers) want to know the details of Clinton's tenure as first lady, they'll have to wait until after 2008 to review most of the documents. "Nearly 2 million pages of documents covering her White House years are locked up in a building [in Little Rock], obscuring a large swath of her record as first lady," writes Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times. Some healthcare records have been released publicly, but "at least 1,000 pages involving her work has been censored by archives staff because they include confidential advice and must be kept secret under a federal law called the Presidential Records Act."
It's congressional retirement season, and is Rep. Dennis Hastert set to leave Congress? The former House speaker, R-Ill., has set a Friday announcement in his district, and "neither Hastert nor his aides have done much to dispel the widely accepted opinion back home that he'll call it quits," Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports.
"I'm Moby Dick and we've got three or four members of Congress who are trying to cast themselves in the part of Captain Ahab -- so they're going to keep coming." -- Rove, on congressional subpoenas, in a parting interview aboard Air Force One.
"Lighten up, slightly." -- "Billiam the Snowman," responding to Romney's criticism of his YouTube debate question (and quoting Romney himself).
ABC's George Stephanopoulos is seeking video and e-mail questions for Sunday's debate, a 90-minute special edition of "This Week." Submit your question here.
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DEMOCRATIC DEBATE AUGUST 19
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