Rove: Bush Policies Will Be Key to GOP Victory

White House senior adviser Karl Rove says that Bush administration policies will be the difference in this year's elections, saying they will help Republicans win. Rove was discussing the policies with conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

For six years support from conservatives has been the bedrock of President Bush's political strategy and it helped him weather a drop in support from Independents and Democrats, but now there's new polling that shows even conservative support for the president has dropped dramatically.

The White House is beginning a new effort to win conservatives back with a focus on moving stalled judicial nominations and scheduling votes on conservative social issues. The administration is also talking up the strength of the U.S. economy, as the president's chief political adviser did in a speech today.

NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON reporting:

At the conservative American Enterprise Institute this morning, Karl Rove said the president's tax cuts were responsible for strong economic growth and he had this answer to Republicans worried about the mid-term elections.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Chief political adviser to President Bush): We're going to be just fine in the fall elections and we're going to be fine because we stand for things that are important. We stand for strong national defense abroad and victory, complete victory in the war on terrorism which involves victory in Iraq.

We stand for economic policies that are pro-growth involving tax cuts and free trade. We are strongly for fiscal restraint in the budget process and our opponents, at this point, stand for little or nothing except mere obstructionism and ultimately the American people are a center right country presented with a center right party with center right candidates who will vote center right.

LIASSON: Rove was defiant in the face of criticism from the president's own base. He said conservatives who complain about the administration's deficit spending are missing the facts. He said he's happy to defend the president's record on budget restraint, at least in the area of non-defense discretionary spending.

Mr. ROVE: The administration issued 39 veto threats on six major spending bills and Congress responded to those veto threats by restraining spending to the levels proposed in the president's budget. To put it mildly, the impact of the president's veto messages have been an unreported achievement.

LIASSON: But former Republican Congressman Pat Toomey, who heads the Club for Growth, says fiscal conservatives want something more than veto threats. They want the president to do something he's never done before.

Representative PAT TOOMEY (Club for Growth): Frankly, I'd rather see a veto because it would highlight what's going on. It would bring attention to the fact that the president finally has vetoed something and it would allow us to have a debate about spending and the president as the guy vetoing the spending bill would win that argument all day long.

LIASSON: Religious conservatives are also disappointed in the Republicans and in response the White House and congressional leaders are planning several weeks of votes on issues like gay marriage, stem cell research, internet gambling, abortion, and of course, judges.

Tom McClusky of the Family Research Council said he hopes that will reenergize the president's core supporters in time for the fall campaigns.

Mr. TOM MCCLUSKY (Family Research Council): Among all Republicans, there is a disparateness between spending and also a lack of focus on the social issues. Right now, the Republicans, they're not going to win the fiscal conservatives by 2006 with the spending that's going on. So with a focus on the social issues, we're hoping that it will help to galvanize the base, at least around the social conservative issues and to get them more involved in the political arena.

LIASSON: Of course some of the discontent among activists is about the same issues that have disappointed other voters, the war in Iraq and high gas prices.

Today Karl Rove said there was a disconnect between the strong economy and the public opinion polls. The war looms over everything, he said, and no one likes paying more at the pump. But he pointed to the president's internal polls to argue that things weren't as bad as they seemed.

Mr. ROVER: The polls I believe are the polls, that we run, that get run through the RNC and I look at those polls all the time. The American people like this president. His personal approval ratings are in the 60s. Job approval is lower, and what that says to me is that people like him, they respect him, he's somebody they feel a connection with, but they're just sour right now on the war and that's the way it's going to be and we will fight our way through.

LIASSON: The president will being fighting his way through tonight with his speech on immigration, the one issue that has riled the conservative base of his own party like no other.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

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