It's What They Do

by digby

Or what Karl Rove does anyway. John Emerson reports on the Franken Coleman recount:

But Coleman is a Rovian. Even though he hasn't won yet, legally speaking, he's already declared victory three times. He's proposed that Franken waive the "unnecessary" recount. He's blamed Franken for the cost of the recount required by law. He's smeared Secretary of State Ritchey. He's smeared several local election boards. He's made a stink about the 32 votes (which were never lost and were never in the trunk of a car), and about the routine correction of a hundred-vote mistranscription, and about the next-morning report of one county's votes, and so on ad nauseum. Whenever the count has turned against him, he has immediately, without checking, insinuated the possibility of fraud. (In this he has been joined by Minnesota's labile, amnesiac Congresswoman Michele Bachmann . Michele may not bother to get her facts right, but "she knows her heart is right").

The Coleman allegations have been refuted in Minnesota, but they're still alive and well nationally. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, MSNBC, and other outlets have succeeded in convincing millions of people that Franken is trying to steal the election. Even the New York Times has relayed erroneous Coleman charges. Some Republicans -- and many media people -- are even hinting that Minnesota is Florida all over again, with Secretary of State Ritchie as the Katherine Harris figure. (Are the Republicans really finally admitting that the 2000 election was stolen?)

Emerson wonders what Coleman hopes to get out of this except a totally poisoned atmosphere since he is likely to hold on to a slim lead and end up winning. The fact is that in close elections, the Rove method is very explicit. This is Republican election stealing 101:

Newspaper coverage on November 9, the morning after the election, focused on the Republican Fob James's upset of the Democratic Governor Jim Folsom. But another drama was rapidly unfolding. In the race for chief justice, which had been neck and neck the evening before, Hooper awoke to discover himself trailing by 698 votes. Throughout the day ballots trickled in from remote corners of the state, until at last an unofficial tally showed that Rove's client had lost—by 304 votes. Hornsby's campaign declared victory.

Rove had other plans, and immediately moved for a recount. "Karl called the next morning," says a former Rove staffer. "He said, 'We came real close. You guys did a great job. But now we really need to rally around Perry Hooper. We've got a real good shot at this, but we need to win over the people of Alabama.'" Rove explained how this was to be done. "Our role was to try to keep people motivated about Perry Hooper's election," the staffer continued, "and then to undermine the other side's support by casting them as liars, cheaters, stealers, immoral—all of that." (Rove did not respond to requests for an interview for this article.)

The campaign quickly obtained a restraining order to preserve the ballots. Then the tactical battle began. Rather than focus on a handful of Republican counties that might yield extra votes, Rove dispatched campaign staffers and hired investigators to every county to observe the counting and turn up evidence of fraud. In one county a probate judge was discovered to have erroneously excluded 100 votes for Hooper. Voting machines in two others had failed to count all the returns. Mindful of public opinion, according to staffers, the campaign spread tales of poll watchers threatened with arrest; probate judges locking themselves in their offices and refusing to admit campaign workers; votes being cast in absentia for comatose nursing-home patients; and Democrats caught in a cemetery writing down the names of the dead in order to put them on absentee ballots.

As the recount progressed, the margin continued to narrow. Three days after the election Hooper held a press conference to drive home the idea that the election was being stolen. He declared, "We have endured lies in this campaign, but I'll be damned if I will accept outright thievery." The recount stretched on, and Hooper's campaign continued to chip away at Hornsby's lead. By November 21 one tally had it at nine votes.

The race came down to a dispute over absentee ballots. Hornsby's campaign fought to include approximately 2,000 late-arriving ballots that had been excluded because they weren't notarized or witnessed, as required by law. Also mindful of public relations, the Hornsby campaign brought forward a man who claimed that the absentee ballot of his son, overseas in the military, was in danger of being disallowed. The matter wound up in court. "The last marching order we had from Karl," says a former employee, "was 'Make sure you continue to talk this up. The only way we're going to be successful is if the Alabama public continues to care about it.'"

Initially, things looked grim for Hooper. A circuit-court judge ruled that the absentee ballots should be counted, reasoning that voters' intent was the issue, and that by merely signing them, those who had cast them had "substantially complied" with the law. Hooper's lawyers appealed to a federal court. By Thanksgiving his campaign believed he was ahead—but also believed that the disputed absentee ballots, from heavily Democratic counties, would cost him the election. The campaign went so far as to sue every probate judge, circuit clerk, and sheriff in the state, alleging discrimination. Hooper continued to hold rallies throughout it all. On his behalf the business community bought ads in newspapers across the state that said, "They steal elections they don't like." Public opinion began tilting toward him.

The recount stretched into the following year. On Inauguration Day both candidates appeared for the ceremonies. By March the all-Democratic Alabama Supreme Court had ordered that the absentee ballots be counted. By April the matter was before the Eleventh Federal Circuit Court. The byzantine legal maneuvering continued for months. In mid-October a federal appeals-court judge finally ruled that the ballots could not be counted, and ordered the secretary of state to certify Hooper as the winner—only to have Hornsby's legal team appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which temporarily stayed the case. By now the recount had dragged on for almost a year.

When I went to visit Hooper, not long ago, we sat in the parlor of his Montgomery home as he described the denouement of Karl Rove's closest race. "On the afternoon of October the nineteenth," Hooper recalled, "I was in the back yard planting five hundred pink sweet Williams in my wife's garden, and she hollered out the back door, 'Your secretary just called—the Supreme Court just made a ruling that you're the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court!'" In the final tally he had prevailed by just 262 votes. Hooper smiled broadly and handed me a large photo of his swearing-in ceremony the next day. "That Karl Rove was a very impressive fellow," he said.

If you haven't read the article that's excerpted from, take the time, especially if you're tempted to start feeling warm and fuzzy about these Republicans who are becoming born again Obamaphiles. All of those people, from Colin Powell on down, benefited for years from tactics like these --- they knew about it, we all did, and they said nothing. If you want to trust people like that, be my guest. I never will.