Reflecting on how he delivered President George W. Bush his second term, White House political adviser Karl Rove admitted Sunday that John Kerry's vote for, then against, funding in Iraq and Afghanistan was the "gift that kept on giving."
The deft strategy of Rove, whom Bush calls the architect of his re-election campaign, is credited with helping move the nation from the 49 percent to 49 percent stalemate of the 2000 election to a 51 percent to 48 percent split in the Republicans' favor.
"The country is still close, but it has moved in a Republican direction, and this election confirmed that," Rove said in a Sunday morning broadcast interview.
Tactically, Kerry's decision to vote for the $87 billion in funding for troops and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then deciding in October 2003 to vote against it, was a bonanza for the president's campaign, "the gift that kept on giving," Rove said.
Bush's campaign featured the videotape in thousands of commercials around the country to paint Kerry as a flip-flopper. The label stuck to the Massachusetts senator despite reports about frequent changes in various Bush positions.
Rove played down the importance to the campaign of "moral values," which exit polls last Tuesday unexpectedly identified as a major consideration of many voters, especially those who voted for Bush.
Rove said 34 percent of the voters were motivated by issues surrounding Iraq and the war on terror, compared with 30 percent motivated by moral values. "What essentially happened in this election was that people became concerned about three issues: first the war, then the economy, jobs and taxes and then moral values. And then everything else dropped off of the plate," he said.
Rove said he felt sick, then got mad when he started reading exit polls on Election Day as Air Force One returned from a final campaign swing. Surveys of voters just leaving polling places around the nation tilted toward Kerry early in the day and through much of the evening, causing early optimism for a Democratic recovery of the White House.
That faded through the night as exit polls were adjusted to reflect official vote tallies. But the exit poll was still tracking toward Kerry as the president's plane landed at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland after Bush's quick Election Day stop to thank supporters in crucial Ohio.
"I was on Air Force One, and we were literally on final approach into Andrews," Rove said in another Sunday morning broadcast interview. "The phone connection kept cutting out. I was holding a piece of paper on my knee, trying to scribble it down, holding the phone in the other hand. I got sick as I wrote them down, and then when I looked at them, I got angry, because they simply could not be true."
"I mean, it had us 19 points down in Pennsylvania. It had us 17 points down in New Hampshire. It had us 1 point up in Virginia," Rove said. "I mean, you looked at these numbers, and you realize, this is just insane."
On one sideline row during the campaign, Rove said the president's tailor was devastated about a controversy over a box-shaped bulge in Bush's back that television cameras captured during the first debate. The mysterious bulge spawned speculation that Bush aides were feeding the president advice secretly through a radio receiver tucked under his suit jacket.
"Nothing was under his jacket," Rove said.
"The poor tailor ... he's an awfully nice fellow, he's a rather flamboyant dude," Rove said. "I'm not going to use his name, but he's just — he's horrified. And, you know, it's — there was nothing there."