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Is Rove's Election Confidence Warranted?

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Some recent political fireworks came from presidential adviser Karl Rove. The architect of Republican political strategy says he is confident that his party will hold both chambers of Congress. He says that despite some polls that showed Democrats leading. And incidentally, plenty of Democrats are anxious, too. Let's find out why from NPR's senior Washington editor, Ron Elving.

Ron, thanks for coming in this morning.

RON ELVING: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why did Karl Rove make that prediction now, as the election approaches?

ELVING: One explanation, certainly the simplest, is that he is spinning. He's trying to keep everyone's spirits up, rally the troops, that sort of thing. You may remember, Steve, that on Election Day 2000, Karl Rove was walking around with the president - or not at that time the president, the governor of Texas. And when people were asking him, Karl, are you seeing any numbers? What are you seeing? He was smiling and saying, Bush, big.

Well, as you do remember, Steve, it wasn't Bush, big. In fact, Bush lost the election in the popular vote by half a million votes and it was five weeks before the Supreme Court gave him the Electoral College.

INSKEEP: I'm also remembering 2004, when it looked on Election Day, the early exist polls seemed to suggest that the president would lose. And Rove was calling people and saying, no, wait a minute; we're going to win this one.

ELVING: Absolutely. So it could just be a show of confidence in that particular fashion. However, I would not suggest that he is just blowing smoke. I think he might if he had to, but it's also quite possible he believes an awful lot of what he's saying about this particular election. And that's what's driving the Democrats to distraction.

INSKEEP: Well, what information does Karl Rove have that other people have overlooked when they've predicted Democratic gains this year, or victory this year?

ELVING: Well, surely he looks at more data than most people do. He has access to a lot of data that most people don't or down to the precinct level, house-by-house, practically. But beyond that it's not just how much data he sees. It's how much he sees in it. And a lot of what he sees in it allows him to discount it or to hedge it, as an investor might say. He knows that late advantages that he has like money and his turnout machine, which is extraordinary, is going to allow him to offset a certain amount of polling edge. So races where Democrats are up by several points may look quite winnable to Karl Rove.

INSKEEP: They can shave those last few points, or they think they can in the last few days.

ELVING: That what he means I think in some respects when he says he's seen the math.

INSKEEP: Hmm. Well, now, Ron. We just heard Luke Burbank reporting on President Bush's trip to Texas. What can we learn from the president's travel schedule in the last few days?

ELVING: I think that his schedule shows that they're not fooling themselves in the White House. They know that the president's greatest value is in rallying the faithful. And so they're going where the faithful live, where they know they'll be well received. And they also know that the president can be a net negative in some of the states right now, and they're better off avoiding those states. So while in 2000 or 2004, the president wound up the campaign in Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin, this week he's going to be in Georgia and Texas and Nevada and Montana.

Now, there aren't as many House seats in those states.

INSKEEP: That are up for contention.

ELVING: That is true. That are up for contention this year. But it is a place -those are places where the president can do his party some good.

INSKEEP: First lady Laura Bush is going somewhere else.

ELVING: Yeah. And that's more evidence really that they know where the real races are. The first lady will get you good media coverage, and she doesn't make people think about Iraq. So, once again, smart politics on their part.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Thanks for coming in.

ELVING: My pleasure, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And by the way, you can read Ron Elving's column, Watching Washington, at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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