Doyle McManus: A Rove 'money bomb': The battle to win the Senate
In North Dakota, Rove's donors have paid for television commercials that attack Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, on several fronts.
"Heidi Heitkamp supports Obamacare," one commercial warns, in disapproving tones. "That's not the change we need. Tell Heidi Obamacare is wrong for North Dakota."
Other ads attacked the Democrat for spending state money on private airplane rides (a charge that turned out to be false) and for accepting contributions from a Washington lawyer who did work for the state (true). The ads were paid for by Crossroads GPS.
"They think this Senate seat is an auction," Heitkamp has said in campaign speeches. "It does not belong to Karl Rove and his billionaire friends."
But her argument is weakened by the fact that she too is accepting as much outside money as she can find. As of midsummer, Heitkamp was behind her Republican opponent, Rep. Rick Berg, in traditional fundraising; he raised about $4 million to her $2.1 million. But Heitkamp has also been helped by more than $2.7 million from outside groups, compared with about $2.4 million for Berg.
And that may be Rove's greatest achievement this year. Whether or not he succeeds in helping the GOP take over the Senate, he has changed the face of campaign financing. The alliance of money-raising groups he has built appears likely to last for years to come, and is already serving as a model for fundraisers and strategists on the other side.
"Every conspiracy needs a leader of vision who thinks long into the future, who plays the game in his head many moves ahead," Rove told a conservative group back in 2005. He was joking about the conspiracy but not about the long-term strategy.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Readers may send him email at doyle.mcmanuslatimes.com.