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Originally published October 18, 2011 at 10:54 PM | Page modified October 18, 2011 at 10:53 PM

Rove appearance sparks partisan dueling

It's been nearly three years since the end of the Bush administration, but you wouldn't have known it from the partisan scrapping Tuesday night in Bellevue. The state Republican Party hosted Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's political adviser, as keynote speaker for its annual fundraising dinner.

Seattle Times political reporter

quotes If Inslee is elected we can expect more Gregoire-nomics, new government spending, tax a... Read more
quotes Joe Wilson was headlining an Inslee event? Bwahahahah, Joe Wilsons 15 minutes of fame... Read more
quotes Rove wanted/worked for one-party rule permanently. Guess which party? Read more

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It's been nearly three years since the end of the Bush administration, but you wouldn't have known it from the partisan scrapping Tuesday night in Bellevue.

The state Republican Party hosted Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's political adviser, as keynote speaker for its annual fundraising dinner.

And Democrats countered with a political protest featuring Joseph Wilson, the former high-ranking diplomat in Iraq whose wife, Valerie Plame, was famously outed in 2003 by Bush administration officials as an undercover CIA operative.

Wilson fired up about 250 protesters outside the Bellevue Westin before Rove's appearance, portraying Rove as a cynical mastermind out to buy the 2012 election with big money from shady corporate donors.

"Karl Rove can have Texas," Wilson said, but "he can't have Washington."

Of course, the event wasn't really about Rove. It was part of the Democratic Party's strategy of linking Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, the GOP's formidable 2012 candidate for governor, to controversial national Republican figures.

Wilson hit that message, blaming Rove for the Iraq war and telling the crowd that McKenna was a "Rovian candidate" by virtue of association with him at the Bellevue event.

Wilson was in the state to headline a fundraiser for McKenna's opponent, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, whom he praised for opposing the Iraq war and sticking up for Plame.

Inside the Westin, Rove mocked the idea that he was out to take over Washington state.

"I'm not capable of running the state because I don't live here," Rove said, adding "and he's [Inslee's] not, and he does live here."

Rove took questions from reporters before his speech to the GOP dinner, which was closed to the media. More than 500 were expected at the event.

Two groups Rove co-founded, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, are poised to play a major role in the 2012 national elections. Those groups have announced a fundraising goal of $240 million, and Democrats have attacked the effort because much of the money can come from donors who do not have to be disclosed.

Rove swatted down such concerns, noting that he hadn't heard Democrats or the media complaining in the past about secrecy regarding the funding of politically oriented liberal nonprofits such as the Sierra Club and NARAL.

"The laws are what the laws are," Rove said. Now that Republicans "are closing the gap," he said, "it is a cause célèbre for the Democrats."

Rove repeated his recent descriptions of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests as a fringe element populated by socialists and anarchists.

He rejected the protesters' calls for higher taxes on the wealthy as "class warfare."

And Rove predicted the movement would fall apart with the wet and cold weather this winter.

Outside the Westin, Wilson laid into Rove for the Plame scandal, repeating his assertions that Rove's fingerprints were all over the outing of Plame as a CIA agent in retaliation for Wilson's public criticism of Bush's claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

"Just because Karl Rove wasn't indicted doesn't mean he was innocent," Wilson said, calling Rove a "traitor."

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz lambasted Republicans for inviting a "near felon" in Rove. "I think they should be ashamed," he said.

Republicans mocked the Democratic protests as a distraction.

"I just think they're living in the past," said state GOP chairman Kirby Wilbur.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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