Karl Rove speaks at a Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce luncheon last year. (Matt York/AP/AP)

In an extensive new profile of the Bush 43 campaign mastermind, New York magazine asserts that he does. Writer Joe Hagan opens the story with a description of Rove talking to him on the phone from the road, on his way to a central Texas quail hunt, an audibly giggling Karen Johnson at his side.

Johnson, a 45-year-old GOP lobbyist, doesn't reappear in the story, which is otherwise about Rove’s hopes for 2012, but the brief reference sure tantalizes. The two have been colleagues and friends — close enough to generate whiffs of tabloid speculation over the years — but this appears to be the first confirmation they’re an item. Rove, 60, has been a single man since splitting from his wife Darby in 2009.

So what's the deal? Rove declined to comment. “I appreciate the need of the Washington Post to fill the page with gossip, but I'm not going to participate.” Johnson did not return calls we placed to her office. Hagan said he couldn't discuss how he pinned down their relationship status. But Austin politicos told us the two are known to step out together in public there.

Johnson runs an Austin lobbying shop, Infrastructure Solutions, but also has a D.C. office at the Watergate, according to public records. In 2009, she put her 5,000 square foot Austin home on the market, telling the Austin American-Statesman she was moving to a ranch in rural Valentine, Tex., and opening the town's first public library in honor of her mother.