Once the Texas GOP's go-to campaign strategist, Karl Rove has become something of a boogeyman for campaigns on both sides of the ballot in the 2014 election cycle.
For years, the Fox News pundit and famed political consultant was widely viewed as one of the most powerful people in politics, playing a central role in the Republican Party’s rise in Texas and advising George W. Bush both in the Governor’s Mansion and the White House. His name has long served as Democratic shorthand for sneaky political tactics.
That dynamic has resurfaced in the gubernatorial fight between Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican Greg Abbott, with the Davis campaign negatively linking Abbott and Rove to spur fundraising. But more recently, Rove’s image has soured among some conservatives unhappy with his involvement in some contentious Republican primaries around the country. In the eyes of many Tea Party activists, Rove repeatedly chose to support the more moderate candidate on the ballot. Now, Rove's connections to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are being used by some of his primary challengers in an attempt to undermine his conservative bona fides.
“I don’t think anybody on the conservative Tea Party front would go toward a candidate who’s connected to Karl Rove,” said Dwayne Stovall, one of seven Republicans challenging Cornyn this year. “I think he’s kind of worn out his welcome with the Tea Party.”
Rove declined to comment for this story.
On Monday, Rove introduced Cornyn at a campaign rally in Longview.
“Don’t let anything stop you from voting for this man,” Rove said at the rally, according to the Longview News-Journal. “His colleagues like him a lot and respect him enormously. We need a new leader to rein in the president for the remaining three years of his presidency, and that man is our senator from Texas, John Cornyn.”
Stovall and U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, another of Cornyn’s primary challengers, have made comments online in recent weeks linking Cornyn with Rove, hoping to raise questions about Cornyn's conservative credentials.
“John Cornyn emerged from Karl Rove's office and voted for six more weeks of Obamacare funding,” Stockman tweeted on Groundhog Day this month.
Stockman has also accused a pro-Cornyn Super PAC, Texans for a Conservative Majority, of being a Rove invention. His campaign has noted that on some records filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the Super PAC has listed an address in the same building in Virginia as Rove’s American Crossroads PAC. A spokeswoman for Texans for a Conservative Majority said Rove has no involvement in the group.
Asked about his opponents’ criticisms in Houston on Tuesday, Cornyn said candidates are making too much of his connections to Rove.
“I would say those are straw men,” Cornyn said. “The truth is, Karl’s not involved in my campaign other than appearing as a guest in an event in Longview. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time."
Rove’s name has also been invoked negatively by Davis' gubernatorial campaign. On Fox News late last month, Rove spoke critically about inconsistencies in how Davis has described her life story. Rove said Davis was “trying to make herself the victim” by accusing Abbott’s campaign of orchestrating a Dallas Morning News story that sparked controversy over the issue.
Within days of the interview, Davis’ campaign began mentioning Rove in fundraising emails.
“We can’t stop Karl Rove and his friends from making wild accusations in the press,” Davis wrote in a campaign fundraising email on Feb. 7. “All we can do is come together to push back against them.”
The campaign hosted a one-day fundraising drive called the “Karl Rove Pushback” and worked to align the famed consultant with Abbott.
“Karl Rove is a huge player in the special interests scene. … All he cares about is getting his ally, Greg Abbott, elected in November at all costs,” Davis campaign manager Karin Johanson said in another campaign email.
Asked why the Davis campaign mentioned Rove in fundraising emails, spokesman Rebecca Acuña said, “Greg Abbott and Karl Rove believe that a governor should answer to special interests. Senator Davis will ensure that every Texan has a voice — not just those who write big campaign checks.”
When asked if the Abbott campaign has a relationship with Rove, spokesman Avdiel Huerta declined to say but argued that Davis was trying to distract voters.
“It's not surprising that Sen. Davis would rather talk about our supporters because she doesn't want to talk about the issues like her support for Obamacare and restricting gun rights,” Huerta said. “Texas won't be fooled.”