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Rovian ruminations: Karl Rove scans the presidential races

November 16, 2007 |  2:22 am

You might think that after being the architect of so many political campaigns, including two successful  presidential election runs by George W. Bush, few things would surprise Karl Rove, recently retired as a top White House advisor.

But yesterday, in an unusual and long, ruminative interview with C-SPAN's Distance Learning Class and Steve Scully, with dozens of college students hooked up at universities around the country, Rove admitted he was surprised by several things in the current campaign. The program will also be archived here.

One was the ability of Rudy Giuliani to stay atop the Republican field for as long as he has and to draw the support of Republicans such as Pat Robertson "that I would not have expected him to draw."  He attributed this to Giuliani building his campaign around the war on terrorism and his successful experience as a leader running New York City -- reducing crime, welfare and the general coarseness of urban life there.

"He's got a record," Rove said, "and part of that record involves speaking his mind bluntly and plainly and acting on his convictions."

Rove said he was also impressed with Mitt Romney.  "He's done a very good job and has run a textbook campaign in building strength in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He's very well organized ... and the strength he has in the early states is authentic."

Rove said he was surprised "at how weak (Barack) Obama and (John) Edwards have turned out to be. Both of them are going to give her some scares.  She's (Hillary Clinton) going to lose something along the way, maybe starting with Iowa.  But the surprise to me is how they haven't been able to take advantage of the openings they've been given and exploit them."

One missed opportunity, Rove said, was Clinton's evasive answer on opening the archives ...

of her first lady documents in the Clinton presidential library during the recent Philadelphia Democratic debate.  She claimed it wasn't her decision to make.

Rove said Obama, who spoke next, could have drawn a dramatically stark contrast, creating a memorable moment by turning to her and saying of course it was her decision.  All she had to do was order the papers released, which are the basis of her claims to be sufficiently experienced to become president.  But the Illinois senator did not.  Instead he compared the sealed papers to the secretiveness of the Bush administration.

Rove added, "Someone characterized Obama to me as another Adlai Stevenson, and I think that's probably accurate."

Rove, a self-taught student of history who never graduated from college, generally does not like this kind of interview.  But in the 90 minutes he answered student and teacher questions ranging over a wide variety of political topics, reviewing crucial moments in the 2000 and 2004 campaigns, admitting to some youthful political pranks, "which I regret," and seeming to suggest that Fred Thompson waited too long to enter the current GOP field.

He also suggested a natural maturation process on the conservative side of the GOP that allows larger issues such as terrorism and national security to take a higher priority now than the onetime all-importance of social issues such as abortion.

Scully asked what the Republicans needed to do to win in 2008 and Rove, apparently assuming Clinton would be the Democratic nominee, said: Make the campaign about change, optimism and the future, not about revisiting the past scandals of the Clinton years.

Asked when he thought historians could begin making an accurate evaluation of the Bush years, Rove said with a smile, "When my book comes out in 2009."

-- Andrew Malcolm 

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