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Karl Rove at Penn State: GOP Sees 'No Presumptive Front-Runner' Yet for Presidential Race

on February 26, 2011 9:06 AM

For the first time in modern history, the U.S. Republican Party does not yet have a front-runner for the next GOP presidential nomination, former presidential adviser Karl Rove said Friday night.

Normally, by this point in the election cycle, someone would be leading the Republican pack, he said.

But "I think we've got a wide-open contest because we have no presumptive front-runner who has been around long enough to earn it," Rove said, speaking with local reporters at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. "We have a bunch of governors who have a localized base of support, but not a national base."

Rove, who served as senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in President George W. Bush's White House, was in State College Friday for the Centre County Republican Committee's annual Lincoln Day Gala.

Before delivering the keynote talk there, he fielded questions for nearly 30 minutes from local reporters. The questions ranged from the 2012 presidential race to Middle East upheaval and Pennsylvania politics. Among Rove's remarks to reporters:

  • Pennsylvania "is a microcosm of the country," he said. " ... The person who tends to win Pennsylvania tends to win the presidential contest. Not always, but tends to."
  • If Republicans are to win back the White House in 2012, Rove said, "we've got to offer a positive and optimistic agenda for the country on the big issues facing it. ... It's not going to be enough to have a (reasoned) and thoughtful critique" of the Obama White House. He said he doesn't "think we know yet" who among the likely GOP contenders will be most viable.
  • Rove said each of the Republican presidential candidates who becomes a more viable contender will need to do three things well: Create a narrative about why he or she should be president -- and not Obama; demonstrate appeal to voters both within and outside the Republican Party; and be prepared for that inevitable, defining moment when he or she can solidify voters' confidence. For the late President Ronald Reagan, one of those moments came when Reagan -- whose age had become a political issue -- playfully noted he wouldn't let Walter Mondale's relative youth and inexperience become issues in the campaign, Rove said.
  • Concerns "about the power of public-employee unions" are likely to grow, Rove said. Since 2001, he said, benefit expenses for state and local government employees have grown roughly 50 percent faster than those for private-sector workers. (He cited Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.) "Particularly (for) state and local governments, a significant chunk of what they spend is on personnel," Rove said.
  • The Obama administration's pledge that its federal stimulus proposals would cap the unemployment rate at eight percent in mid-2009 has not panned out, Rove said. He said unemployment is now 20 percent higher than the rate where Obama said it would top out. Ensuring national prosperity requires that "you put your fiscal house in order and you do things that will encourage people to save and invest and work," Rove said. "We've done just the opposite over the last two years." He said the economy will recover, but not because of the Obama administration's policies.
  • The Obama administration was "a couple steps behind in Egypt" and is "even further behind in Libya," Rove said. He said the administration has handled both Middle East crises "reasonably well -- given a big, big mistake they made a long time ago." That mistake, Rove said, is the administration's earlier dismissal of "the democracy agenda of George W. Bush." He said Obama, in earlier issuing what Rove dubbed an "apologia" for past U.S. policies in the Middle East, lost a "moral agenda" to press for open parliamentary elections in Egypt. Then those elections "went backwards, instead of forward" in their openness to the Egyptian people this year, Rove said.

The Lincoln Day Gala was not open to reporters, but Rove said that he would be addressing that crowd about the next presidential race, the Obama administration's policies and what the Republicans will need to do in order to reclaim the White House. He also planned to take the audience's questions, he said.

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