As Alexi Giannoulias’s campaign cries foul over Mark Kirk’s plan to place “voter integrity” specialists in black precincts around the state, one adjective keeps coming up, over and over again: “Rovian.” As in Karl Rove, President Bush’s political strategist, and an alleged master of minority disenfranchisement.
There’s no evidence Rove is involved with Kirk’s voter integrity program, but Giannoulias’s people are trying to link him to Hans von Spakovsky, a former federal election commissioner who was in town Thursday to address the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, on the topic of “Voter Fraud & the Election: What Role Could it Play in November?”
"Congressman Kirk, Karl Rove and Hans von Spakovsky are three peas in a pod when it comes to suppressing the vote but this time we will be ready for them. This type of Florida-style voter intimidation is despicable, and we will not let them steal this election," said Michael Rendina, Giannoulias’s campaign manager.
Thursday night, on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Giannoulias campaign counsel Michael Dorf again raised the specter of Rove, pointing out that Rove committed his first political dirty trick in Illinois.
Here’s the story behind that: in 1970, when Rove was a member of the College Republicans at the University of Utah, he came to Illinois to work on the campaign of Sen. Ralph Tyler Smith. While he was here, Rove got into some mischief: he broke into the campaign headquarters of Alan Dixon, who was running for state treasurer, stole some letterhead, and printed up an invitation to the opening of Dixon’s office, promising “Free Beer, Free Food, Girls And A Good Time For Nothing.” He then distributed the fliers on Skid Row and at a Grant Park rock concert, looking forward to the discomfort when “elite Democrats” were confronted with stew bums and smelly hippies. In his autobiography, Courage and Consequence, Rove said he did it to impress a pretty girl who worked for Sen. Smith.
Dixon got the last laugh. His event was overrun by riff-raff, but he declared that just proved “the Democratic Party is the people’s party…the party of everyone.” They didn’t call him “Al the Pal” for nothing. Dixon won, and eventually was elected to the Senate -- to the same seat, in fact, that Kirk and Giannoulias are running for.
Rove, who was only 19 at the time, has dismissed the incident as an immature prank. Democrats, obviously, believe it was the beginning of a lifetime of foul play against their party.
So far, Giannoulias has presented no evidence that Rove is involved in Kirk’s voter integrity efforts. But it’s clear that the specter of Karl Rove still haunts Illinois Democrats.