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Inside Politics

The man behind the victories

By Bill Schneider

Karl Rove
Karl Rove

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Kennedy once said, "Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan."

This midterm was quite a victory for the Republicans. But who's the father? We've done some DNA tests and identified him.

Instead of serving him with papers, we're going to give him the political Play of the Week.

He's Karl Rove, former Austin political consultant, protégé of the late Lee Atwater and now senior adviser to the president.

From the day President Bush took office, Rove has been plotting a political strategy for 2002.

He tipped his hand last January when he told the Republican National Committee that the war on terrorism could be a useful issue for GOP candidates this year. "We can go to the country confidently on this issue because Americans trust the Republican Party to do a better job of keeping our communities and families safe."

Outraged Democrats accused Rove of politicizing the war on terrorism. "General Rove" they called him.

Rove was planning a war -- the political offensive of 2002.

Rove's tactics? Recruit strong GOP candidates like Norm Coleman in Minnesota, John Thune in South Dakota and Jim Talent in Missouri.

But something else was needed: a national cause Republicans could rally around. One they felt deeply committed to: George W. Bush.

Rove persuaded President Bush to take an enormous political risk by going out on the campaign trail.

On Rove's advice, the president ran a relentless political marathon: Fifteen states in the last five days of the campaign.

Bush's last-minute stops in Minnesota and Georgia probably turned the election around in those crucial states.

The president's popularity was the biggest thing Republicans had going for them. Bush said on the campaign trail, "I think candidates win elections because they're good candidates, not because they may happen to have the president as a friend."

Generous, but wrong. Having Bush standing by them paid off big time for GOP candidates this year.

It was all part of Rove's battle plan. He said in an interview on ABC, "if we win, it'll be because of the president and the quality of our candidates and our campaigns. If we lose, it'll be because of me."

They didn't lose, and it was largely because of Karl Rove. And it was the political Play of the Week.

Karl Rove says he admires the William McKinley campaign of 1896, which created a Republican coalition that dominated American politics for a generation.

McKinley campaigned from his front porch in Canton, Ohio, where he received three quarters of a million visitors. Bet President Bush would have liked that a lot better.

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