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As for Rove, he had not considered himself particularly close to either parent. It wasn't until after his mother's death that Rove began to seek out a new relationship with the man who had raised him, maybe because the son who had lost so much needed this bond for the first time. "It was in the '80s that I started seeing my father more, and we ended up vacationing every year in Santa Fe," Rove says. In 1998 they explored Louis' roots in Norway together, and in 2001, as the rest of the Bush White House was riveted by California's energy crisis, Rove was on the phone with his siblings trying to figure out how to keep his emphysema-stricken father's oxygenator running in Palm Springs. Louis died last July, and Karl keeps a little picture of him in a star-shaped frame in his office. As he studied the beaming image recently, Rove pronounced his father to have been a happy man: "He lived life exactly the way he wanted to live it."
Did the mysteries and eruptions of his own family draw him to one that never seemed to have a day of doubt about itself? "No, no. I mean, that suggests they're a substitute," Rove says. "Look, [the President] is my boss and my friend. I have benefited enormously by my association with him and his father. Both of them are great men. But you know, I had a great father."
The President and the architect have a jokey little ritual. When Rove comes across a book he thinks Bush might like to read--most recently, Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton--Rove lends it to him with the understanding that both will write something in it. Bush's inscriptions are often wry turns on all the speculation about who's the real brains of the operation. "He'll return it to me saying, 'I heartily recommend that you read this book,' like he came up with the idea," Rove says, laughing. "'I'm happy to loan you this book from my private library. Please return when finished.'" Bush recommends reading material to Rove as well. The latest is Israeli politician Natan Sharansky's book on democracy. "Being the cheapskate that he is," says Rove, "he simply told me to get a copy."
Rove is settling in for a second term, during which he says Bush will achieve big reforms that will fortify the Republican Party's hold on power well beyond Bush's presidency. But it's hard not to wonder what lies ahead for Karl Rove. There's already talk of a "Rove primary" in which a wide open field of G.O.P. hopefuls would vie for his talents. Rove misses Texas, McKinnon says, "but I don't know if it's in the cards for him to ever go back. It's gravity and physics that keep him here now."
So is Rove planning to pick a horse in 2008? "I don't know," he says. "I don't believe I will. I mean, I'm a Bush man." But there are other Bushes, and the Architect did buy a house in Florida a few years back. Rove says he takes that state's Governor, Jeb Bush, at his word when Jeb says he isn't running. But of course, you wouldn't expect Rove to be closing any options. "I don't think Marvin is running," Rove says, a sly smile creeping across his face. "I can't speak for Neil." --With reporting by Peta Owens-Liston/Salt Lake City and Stacy J. Willis/ Las Vegas