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Rove insists his only contribution was to add a fourth issue, legal reform, which in Texas is shorthand for cutting down on lawsuits against business, and not incidentally, choking off the income of the trial lawyers who are major contributors to the Democrats. Rove recalls telling Bush, "'We've got a big problem in Texas with our judicial system.' And he said, 'Yeah, absolutely right.' And he added it on."
Even in Texas, their partnership was the subject of intense curiosity and speculation about whether the political consultant was the dark side of a shining politician. Throughout Rove's career, there had been whispers of dirty tricks, like the suspicion that he engineered the 1986 bugging of his own office to create a distraction in a Governor's race in which the Democrat was gaining. "He doesn't fight clean at all," says Garry Mauro, who claims Rove sicced the FBI on him when he was Texas land commissioner in the 1980s. Rove denies all such charges, occasionally at the top of his lungs. (The Mauro case stayed open for two years, although Mauro was never charged with anything, and Rove's connection is circumstantial.)
As Governor Bush turned his attention in late 1998 to the prospect of a presidential race, he asked Rove to sell his business and sever his ties with all his other clients. Bush told him, "If I do this, I want you free and clear." It should have been a hard decision, Rove says, but it wasn't. So Karl Rove & Co. became a wholly owned subsidiary of Bush Dynasty Inc.
Then again, had Rove ever been meant for anyplace but the White House?
The folklore by now is so established that even Rove's relatives subscribe to it. Family legend has it that as a 3-year-old, Rove announced he would be President someday, says his younger sister Reba Hammond. And there's a story of how he had a poster over his bed exhorting, WAKE UP, AMERICA.
Not trueany of it, says Rove, who was the second of five children. "With all due respect to my sister, whom I love dearly, her recollection of these things is a little suspect." Rove does own up to being a know-it-all who wore a tie and carried a briefcase every day to Dilworth Middle School in Sparks, Nev., in the late 1960s. "I did write my fifth-grade civics paper on the theory of dialectical materialism," he says. "My son asked me last night what that was, and I told him, and I remember it: thesis, antithesis, synthesis."
The family moved around because of Louis Rove's job as a geologist. Karl was a star debater and the supremely confident student-senate president at Olympus High in Salt Lake City, Utah. His history teacher Eldon Tolman made his class go see the procession of presidential candidates and national hopefuls who came through town in 1968. "In one year, I saw Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey speak," Rove recalls. "In fact, this is where Humphrey makes his famous speech breaking with Johnson on the war." Rove fancied Rockefeller enough to get a few posters, was smitten with Reagan but ultimately settled on being "a Nixon man."