Republican state chairmen yesterday said their party’s rank and file solidly support Karl Rove in the face of intensified Democratic criticism of the senior White House adviser that some called a political smear job to exploit an ongoing CIA leak investigation.
Republican officials across the country said that outside of a flurry of phone calls and e-mail from party activists rallying to Mr. Rove’s defense, the attacks and counterattacks were an inside-the-Beltway story that had no political traction among voters at the grass-roots level.
“You can judge a controversy by reading the e-mails and the phone calls [from Republicans], and they are 100 percent in support of Karl Rove,” said South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson. “This looks like partisan personal attacks against Rove for purely political purposes.”
Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett said the attacks and demands that Mr. Rove resign were part of “a Democratic smear campaign.”
“I don’t think it’s resonating outside of Washington at all,” Mr. Bennett said. “The Democratic chairman here hasn’t said a word about it, yet.”
He added: “There is no evidence that Rove broke the law. It’s really hypocritical. These are the same people who are crying for an investigation and complaining about obstruction of justice who were the first ones to jump to Bill Clinton’s defense in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he was in the White House.”
Several chairmen interviewed yesterday said that voters in their states were focused on rising gas prices, state budgets and summer vacations.
“I don’t get the sense that anybody is talking about Karl Rove up here,” said New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Warren Henderson.
“My sense is that the focus among New Hampshire voters is on the Supreme Court vacancy, the London bombing, the war in Iraq and other long-term political issues,” he said. “I don’t have any sense whatsoever that this story on Rove approaches any of those issues in terms of stature or impact.”
In Minnesota, where a bitter political battle has erupted over the state budget, party Chairman Ron Carey says the war of words over Mr. Rove’s purported role in the leak “has had absolutely no traction here whatsoever.”
“If anything, [the attacks] have had a boomerang effect on our party’s grass roots who are more motivated to work harder to elect Republicans,” he said.
In Pennsylvania, Republican Party Chairwoman Eileen Melvin said she has seen few stories about the CIA leak that has gripped Washington in the past week. “Everybody I’ve talked to, and we’ve had calls from a lot of our leaders, are more concerned about the economy, developing an energy policy and, quite frankly, who is going to be the Supreme Court nominee.”
In Madison, Wis., state party Chairman Rick Graber said the story about the Justice Department probe into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative “was on Page 3 of the State Journal. Most people view it as business as usual when Democrats are beating up on the president.”
“In terms of negative e-mail about the president and Karl Rove, there has been zero,” he said.