Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times set the stage for less than satisfying results on election night.

As the midterm campaign enters the homestretch, the GOP congressional juggernaut that has dominated national politics for more than a decade may be over. Polls show Democrats extending their leads in pivotal races across the country. But the man largely responsible for the Republicans’ glory days — and arguably still the most powerful political operative in the United States — is far from discouraged.

A three-part plan

Instead, Rove is giving a virtuoso performance designed to prevent the Democrats from taking control of the House and Senate or, if that is no longer possible, to hold down the size of the Democratic victory to make it easier for the GOP to come back in 2008. His plan is three-pronged: to reenergize any conservatives who may be flagging; to make sure the GOP’s carefully constructed campaign apparatus is functioning at peak efficiency; and to put the resources of the federal government to use for political gain.

Correct me if I am wrong, but it is a little premature to say that Karl Rove is ‘giving a virtuoso performance’. There are several elements to running a national campaign, which is really what Rove is responsible for. The first, and most important, is message. And, on that score, it appears by every measure that Karl Rove has miscalculated. Caught snooping on American’s phone calls without a warrant, Rove decided to attempt to turn criminal vulnerability (and an impeachable offense) into a political strength. Likewise, with the Hamden Supreme Court decision that rejected the administration’s approach to handling suspected terrorists. Rove moved to make their crimes legal, and turn opposition to criminality into softness on defense. He got half his legislation passed (not the part on the NSA), but the message has so far failed to resonate with the electorate at all.

Instead, the polls show that the GOP has lost their edge on matters of national security. The GOP has no edge on any issue in this campaign. They are reduced to lying about taxes and making ominous intonations about future terror attacks. And, while Karl Rove doesn’t set our foreign policy, he is responsible for politicizing it. A failed foreign policy now falls, not on the bipartisan Washington establishment that authorized the use of force in Iraq, but on the Republicans that rubberstamped three years of ensuing failure, graft, and corruption without any meaningful oversight and even an iota of willingness to take advice from the loyal opposition.

This is hardly a virtuoso performance. So, then, the question becomes: can Karl Rove save the GOP’s bacon by throwing pork projects and media events at vulnerable candidates. For example, can the number one enemy of the environment be saved by pretending to give a shit about wetlands?

And when environmentalists from the San Francisco Bay Area sharpened their attacks on Rep. Richard W. Pombo (R-Tracy), chairman of the House Resources Committee, the White House political office arranged for President Bush to stop in his district to sign legislation protecting wetlands — with Pombo standing by his side.

I don’t think that is going to fool anyone. Every paper in California has chimed in to call Pombo a national disgrace, particularly on the environment. So, what’s next for the Maestro?

This week, Rove and his staff will turn to their endgame.

They will oversee a mobilization of political employees from Cabinet agencies, Capitol Hill and lobbying firms — many of them skilled campaign veterans — to more than a dozen battleground states. Many will act as “marshals,” supervising the “72-hour plan” developed by Rove in 2001 with Ken Mehlman, the former White House political director who now heads the Republican National Committee

People are already voting in many states. The so-called 72 hour operation is one explanation for the GOP exceeding polling expectations in 2002 and 2004. We all know the other explanation: voter suppression, fraud, and theft. These latter efforts are where the Republicans excel. And that is the only virtuoso performance left to the Republicans. If the votes get counted correctly, this will be a landslide, and I don’t care how many snowmobilers the GOP identifies and drags to the polls. No one likes a loser, and the GOP are losers in the current election narrative. They are going to lose.

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