Who Will Be the Karl Rove Of the 2008 Campaign?

Mark Penn (Melina Mara/twp - Twp)
Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The most obvious heir to a position of Karl Rove-like influence is Mark Penn, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's top political adviser. Penn, the rare pollster who is also the chief strategist of a campaign, reinforces some of what liberals do not like about Clinton: He is a centrist who has pushed the New York Democrat to the middle and advised her not to apologize for her vote to authorize the war in Iraq.

David Axelrod, the Chicago-based admaker who piloted Barack Obama's 2004 Senate victory, is also involved in political strategy and policy and speaks to the Illinois Democrat every day. His influence could be even stronger than Rove's or Penn's in one way -- Axelrod came to advise Obama when he was a little-known state senator and has worked with him closely longer than Penn has with Clinton.

At this point in the race, the other leading candidates do not seem to have a figure as central as Rove was to Bush. Former senator John Edwards, a North Carolina Democrat, has frequently complained of the influence of consultants, and in many ways his wife, Elizabeth, is viewed as his top adviser. And in the 2004 campaign, Elizabeth Edwards complained that ads designed by one adviser did not portray her husband's unique qualities. That adviser? David Axelrod.

On the Republican side, Jeri Thompson, wife of former senator Fred D. Thompson of Tennessee, has become controversial because of her heavy involvement in the day-to-day operations of her husband's potential campaign despite having relatively little political experience.

For the most part, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney lacks a central campaign figure on the Rove model. Most of his current staffers are new to presidential bids, though campaign manager Beth Myers did serve as his chief of staff in Massachusetts.

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's team includes New York campaign and City Hall veterans. He has added some new Washington hands, including campaign manager Mike DuHaime, the former political director of the Republican National Committee.

One candidate in the field who ran directly against the Karl Rove machine is Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Up until this summer, McCain had a Rove proxy in longtime aide John Weaver. Weaver and Rove both honed their craft in Texas politics, at one time working together on a gubernatorial campaign. But Weaver left the McCain team last month during a major campaign shake-up, meaning that McCain's Rove, like Bush's Rove, will sit on the sidelines in 2008.

-- Perry Bacon Jr.

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