I just finished reading Boy Genius: Karl Rove, the Brains Behind the Remarkable Political Triumph of George W. Bush by Lou Dubose, Jan Reid, and Carl M. Cannon. I'll admit that I started reading with a huge chip on my shoulder about all that is evil in the modern Republican Party. While this book didn't change my mind (I doubt that anything could), it gave me an appreciation for Rove's political brilliance (and occasional dirty tricks). Sure, you could say that our current predicament is his fault, but he did a darn good job making it happen.
The book ends with a description of Rove's top-down management of the 2002 elections across the country. Rove hand-picked candidates and even discouraged or redirected the less desirable ones. For example, Rove convinced Norm Coleman to run for senator in Minnesota. He also talked Tim Pawlenty out of it, pushing him toward the governorship instead. Both won in 2002 (though Coleman was undoubtedly helped by the tragic death of his opponent, incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone).
This makes me wonder what the heck happened in Illinois in 2004. Republican Peter Fitzgerald did not seek reelection, and Republican primary victor Jack Ryan bowed out after some racy details came out regarding his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan (it was way overblown, but I didn't mind seeing a Republican victimized by the sort of moral witch hunt that Clinton endured).
Democrat Barack Obama was a solid candidate, but still he was only a state senator. When a couple of misguided Republican committee members (it was definitely not unanimous) pushed for Alan Keyes to replace Ryan, where was Rove? I know he had Bush's campaign to manage, but somebody at the national level should have stepped in to put the kibosh on that ridiculous idea. As it was, the GOP practically conceded an open seat to someone with no federal experience. Obama won by a greater margin than any senator in state history. Even worse, Keyes' ultraconservative ideology turned off a lot of Illinois voters who have a reputation for supporting moderate Republicans. I can't see how the Keyes campaign was positive in any way for the Illinois GOP.
Don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled that Obama won. It's just that the Illinois GOP's strategy seems even less explicable after reading Boy Genius. It also underscores the reason people like Rove have to manage everything--obviously the state parties cannot be trusted to make good decisions on their own.