Magazine article Newsweek

Down to the Wire; the Endgame: In the Last Weeks, Rove Felt 'Emotional Stress' about Getting out the Vote for Bush. and Where Was the 'Comeback Kerry' of Campaign Legend?

Magazine article Newsweek

Down to the Wire; the Endgame: In the Last Weeks, Rove Felt 'Emotional Stress' about Getting out the Vote for Bush. and Where Was the 'Comeback Kerry' of Campaign Legend?

Article excerpt

Byline: This story is based on reporting by Eleanor Clift, Kevin Peraino, Jonathan Darman, Peter Goldman, Holly Bailey, Tamara Lipper and Suzanne Smalley. It was written by Evan Thomas.

Karl Rove cultivated an air of mystery, rarely appearing on TV talk shows or giving on-the-record interviews. He wasn't all that elusive--he sent e-mails by the score from his ubiquitous BlackBerry. But he enjoyed taunting reporters. After Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times wrote that the "normally elusive" Rove was out spinning reporters after the first debate, Rove declared to a press gaggle, "I must go. I must be elusive." Rove was amused by the Internet rumor mill's suggestion that the mysterious bulge on Bush's back at the first debate was actually a secret transmitter. Spotting some reporters at a Bush speech, he went into a pantomime of Rove the Machiavellian Puppet Master, cupping his hand over his mouth and pretending to dictate the president's speech through a hidden microphone.

Jolly Karl. Actually, he was feeling a good deal of "emotional stress," as he somewhat stiffly put it to a NEWSWEEK reporter. He was two weeks away from finding out whether his get-out-the-vote machine, so carefully and laboriously constructed during the past four years, was the crowning glory of King Karl--or a house of cards. Rove had been caught by surprise in 2000 when a seemingly solid win--a "landslide," Rove had predicted to the then Gov. George W. Bush two days before the election--turned into a popular-vote loss and the messy drama of hanging chad in Florida. In 2000 some 4 million Christian evangelicals--Rove's true believers--had stayed home on Election Day, put off by last-minute publicity over an old DUI conviction of George Bush and a general distaste for politics. Just as galling, the Democrats' get-out-the-vote operation had been arguably more effective than Rove's. The Democrats were really pouring it on this time around, using more than $100 million generated by 527s and Big Labor to register hundreds of thousands of new voters. Somewhat ominously, the Democrats were also creating a vast network of lawyers to file legal challenges on election night.

Rove was determined to fight back, even to strike pre-emptively. "They hired 10,000 lawyers. So we hired 10,000 lawyers," he said. Rove had already ordered up legal challenges to allegedly fraudulent Democratic voter-registration efforts in states from Ohio to Nevada. ("We found Freddy Krueger [from the movie "Nightmare on Elm Street"] registered 10 times in Nevada," said an aide to Rove.) The Democrats hired poll watchers and drivers to get their people to the polling place. Traditionally, the Democrats could count on labor unions to organize the most effective get-out-the-vote operations. The Republicans, by custom, relied largely on volunteers, housewives and grandmothers, small businessmen and retirees, who worked for nothing more than an "attawaytogo" message from Rove's BlackBerry and the satisfaction of playing a small part in his vast crusade to re-elect the president.

Volunteers or no (and lately, Rove had been hiring some get-out-the-vote professionals, as well as squadrons of lawyers), he wanted to maintain absolute control. He was obsessed with "metrics," with precise measurements of how the Bush-Cheney campaign was doing at any given moment. "Give me a date," Rove demanded of a NEWSWEEK reporter in mid-October. "Sept. 30?" He tapped into his computer to examine one of his "metric mileposts." "In Ohio we were supposed to register 1,119 voters that day. We registered 3,604!" he declared triumphantly.

Rove was feeling a little cranky about press reports that the Democrats were registering vastly more voters in swing states like Ohio and Florida. He blamed shoddy reporting by The New York Times (Rove considered the Times to be Pravda for liberals; he had just personally chewed out the Times's executive editor Bill Keller and Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman). …

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