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VOL. 125 | NO. 13 | Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rove Speculates About Ford Jr. at Stop in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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In this 2005 photo, President George W. Bush and his then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove are shown leaving the White House.

AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

“I’m a fireplug in a world full of dogs. How are you?”

So came the greeting from Karl Rove, one of the most well-known and controversial national political operatives, a few hours before he was scheduled to speak Wednesday night to students in the McCallum Ballroom at Rhodes College.

The topic of his speech was “American Politics,” but he spoke with The Daily News beforehand about a wide range of topics, including the politics of health care reform, Harold Ford Jr. and Rove’s soon-to-be-published memoir.

Mastermind hypothesis

Rove, credited as the mastermind behind George W. Bush’s gubernatorial and presidential victories, has been busy lately visiting college campuses, debating fellow pundits and politicos and preparing to heavily promote his memoir “Courage and Consequence,” scheduled for release in March.

His visit to Memphis came the day after Scott Brown, a Republican state senator in Massachusetts, captured the U.S. Senate seat held for decades by the late Ted Kennedy.

That game-changing victory did more than replace a liberal lion in one of the bluest of blue states with a rock-ribbed Republican; it shifted the balance of power in Washington and Wednesday morning seemed close to derailing one of President Barack Obama’s top domestic priorities: health care reform.

That’s one of the reasons Rove was several minutes late for his interview with The Daily News, as he’d been speaking to an A-list national Republican who was excited about the victory. The night before his Rhodes event, Rove also was interviewed from his hotel room by FOX television personality Greta Van Susteren about the Brown victory.

Rove is a former deputy chief of staff and senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

“I’m hard-pressed to find a special election or an off-year election with as many ramifications for the country as last night,” Rove said about the Massachusetts race. “I’m not certain there is a consensus yet on what the takeaway is for Democrats. You look at it this morning, and you’ve got everything from Nancy Pelosi – ‘We’re going to get health care’ – to some of the progressives saying, ‘We didn’t use the power we had quick enough’ – to people saying we need to moderate this.

“The key for Democrats is, in seven days the president of the United States has the State of the Union Address, and he’s got to make big decisions about what he’s going to define the priorities for the country as for the next year.”

Local perspective

Shelby County Democratic Party Chairman Van Turner disagrees that health care reform may get kicked to the backburner or dropped completely as a result of Brown’s victory now erasing Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

“My thoughts are that with many national elections, there oftentimes is a sort of sway back the other way in some states,” Turner said. “It’s just the natural course of things. It’s a period we’ll have to maneuver through and get over it.

“The Massachusetts win was disappointing, but it sends a message we as Democrats need to go back to the table, get on one accord and see what the problems are. It’s an early lesson, that’s one good thing about it. It’s an early lesson we can learn from and grow from.”

In the meantime, Rove had a lot to say about former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford Jr., whom he thinks is all but certain to run for the U.S. Senate in New York. Rove has watched parts of Ford’s career closely, such as Ford’s unsuccessful 2006 U.S. Senate race against Bob Corker.

At one point during that campaign, Rove traveled to Memphis with Bush for a Corker fundraiser.

“I think Ford is in the race,” Rove said about Ford’s possible candidacy in New York. “He took a leave of absence (from Merrill Lynch). He’s a guy with a lot of intelligence and drive and ambition. We’ll see how it plays out. He’s an aggressive campaigner and an articulate, attractive candidate who can sway crowds.

“He needs to have a message that resonates with New Yorkers. But New York has been accepting of candidates who’ve been in from elsewhere before, like former first lady Hillary Clinton.”

Several Bush administration figures have memoirs in the works, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush himself. Rove said his forthcoming book would pull no punches and will “name names.”

“I will draw back the curtain,” Rove said. “I’m blunt, and there are going to be people who don’t like it. And a lot of them are going to have a ‘D’ behind their names or work at the New York Times.”

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