Voters Give Advice to Karl Rove
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Karl Rove, the president's top advisor, says he's still confident that Republicans can maintain control of Congress. But the struggle has him campaigning in what were once thought to be safe districts for the GOP. This weekend, Rove traveled to Buffalo to raise money for Tom Reynolds, a Republican leader in the House who's been hit hard by the Foley e-mail scandal. NPR's Robert Smith reports from Buffalo, New York.
ROBERT SMITH: As the chair of the Republican Congressional Committee, Reynolds was supposed to be helping other candidates get elected this season. Now he's the one that needs a life preserver. Rove's mission in Buffalo this weekend was to tell a crowd of GOP bigwigs not to give up on their congressman or their party.
Mr. KARL ROVE (Presidential Advisor): And I know that when the story of this election is told, Tom Reynolds' leadership is going to be a big reason why the Republicans are going to keep the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(Soundbite of applause)
SMITH: But it's not going to be easy. Reynolds started to lose his tight grip on his suburban district after he admitted that he knew about some of Mark Foley's questionable e-mails as early as last spring. He says he simply reported it to the Speaker of the House and didn't follow up on it. The scandal seems to have demoralized some Republicans in the district and Rove tried to rally the faithful with the scariest thing he could imagine: Democrat Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
Mr. ROVE: And if leading Democrats had their way, our nation would be weaker and the enemies of our nation would be stronger, and that's a stark fact. And it's a reason that this fall's election will turn very heavily on national security.
SMITH: But if Tom Reynolds wins his reelection bid, it probably won't be on national security issues. Reynolds' campaign is being helped by an October surprise that even Rove couldn't engineer.
(Soundbite of new broadcast)
Unidentified Man: Right now on 7 News we are breaking all kinds of weather records as a freak fall storm cripples the metro Buffalo area and many of the surrounding suburbs.
SMITH: Ten days ago, Reynolds' congressional district got buried under two feet of snow and the Foley scandal got pushed off the front pages. Reynolds all of the sudden went from apologizing on his TV ads...
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Representative TOM REYNOLDS (Republican, New York): Looking back, more should have been done, and for that I am sorry.
SMITH: ...to televised press conferences where he showed off how much federal relief he could get for his district.
Rep. REYNOLDS: The White House calling me today to inform me that the Federal Emergency Declaration would be forthcoming today, which we qualified for due to the record-setting snow.
SMITH: Sean Kelly, a political science professor at Niagara University, says Reynolds was suddenly back on familiar ground.
Professor SEAN KELLY: (Niagara University): He's back to playing the ultimate member of Congress that, when a crisis comes along in the district, that they're going to be there to help us out. This is what we expect from them.
SMITH: Meanwhile, Reynolds' Democratic opponent, industrialist Jack Davis, hasn't done much campaigning since the storm. As a self-made millionaire, he prefers to just buy ads, including one that tries to keep the Foley scandal in front of voters.
(Soundbite of ad)
Unidentified Woman #1: Reynolds says he did nothing wrong, but when it comes to protecting kids, isn't it wrong to do nothing? Tom Reynolds, wrong on all accounts.
SMITH: The Davis campaign also released a statement teasing Reynolds for needing the help of Washington insiders like Karl Rover to, quote, "save his bacon." But Professor Kelly says Democrats in Buffalo may have just as much to gain as Republicans by the Rove visit.
Professor KELLY: He's the president's man, and the president is unpopular in Reynolds' district, and that's part of what's hurting him.
Mr. ROVE: And thank you for coming tonight. Appreciate it.
(Soundbite of applause)
SMITH: After Rove's speech, the top Republicans in Buffalo emerged onto a downtown street with their marching orders: to re-energize conservatives. Emilio Coliocovo(ph) said that's going to mean a lot of phone calls and organizing in the next 16 days.
Mr. EMILIO COLIOCOVO (Buffalo, New York): Republicans are good at grassroots politics, and that means getting out your vote, whether it's the Christian right, whether it's your conservative base. That's the secret weapon.
SMITH: Jessica Smith Overholtz, a party leader from Lancaster, New York, says it also means that Republicans shouldn't dwell on recent setbacks.
Ms. JESSICA SMITH OVERHOLTZ (Local Republican Party Leader): You can't get bogged down in yesterday's story, yesterday's scandal, yesterday's whatever. You just need to stick to your message and keep plowing forward, because voters will listen to you day by day by day.
SMITH: And if that doesn't work, at least in Buffalo, there's always the chance of more snow. Robert Smith, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.