WASHINGTON – White House political adviser Karl Rove said Sunday he sees encouraging signs for the GOP in the public's strong negative opinions of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic-run Congress.
"I do think the Republican Party is more in keeping with the attitudes and values of the American people," said President Bush's departing chief political strategist. Congress' approval in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll this month stood at 25 percent, compared with 35 percent for Bush.
As Democratic hopefuls held a debate in Iowa, Rove appeared on three Sunday morning talk shows and stepped up his criticism of Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady.
"She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the history of the Gallup poll," he said.
"It just says people have made an opinion about her. It's hard to change opinions once you've been a high-profile person in the public eye, as she has for 16 or 17 years."
Clinton, at the debate, responded to Rove's criticism by saying: "I don't think Karl Rove is going to endorse me, but I find it interesting that he's obsessed with me."
Rove has a vested interest in the outcome of the 2008 election, after predicting he could build a long-term Republican majority, only to watch as Democrats swept Republicans from power in Congress in voting last year.
Rove disputed suggestions that his brand of politics was intended to divide. He said the White House won bipartisan support on issues ranging from education and tax cuts and the war in Iraq. But strong Democratic resentment of Bush blocked other efforts, he said.
"There's some Democrats who never accepted him as president after 2000," Rove said.
Rove defended his political tactics, which opponents have labeled as divisive.
"The Democrats could routinely question the president's integrity," Rove said, but "when we call the Democrats for their statements and for their votes, somehow that's wrong. I don't get it."
Rove announced last week he would leave the Bush administration by the end of August, return to Texas and spend more time with his family.
Rove said the field of Republicans seeking to succeed Bush offers the GOP "an excellent chance to keep the White House."
Rove evaded a question during the broadcast interviews about whether the GOP wanted Clinton to win the Democratic nomination.
"It's going to be what it's going to be," Rove said.
Top Republican strategists have said in the past that they aimed their harshest comments in 2004 at Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the eventual nominee, because they wanted Bush to take on Kerry rather than John Edwards, then a senator from North Carolina. Edwards ended up as Kerry's running mate.
Rove disputed that strategy was behind his criticism of Clinton.
Looking back to the 2006 elections, when Democrats took control of Congress, Rove said their success was not unexpected.
"The 2006 election was a normal off-year election, if you look at the sweep of American history," he said.
Rove disputed any suggestion that the president is a lame duck.
"He is a bold leader who's going to be milking every single moment that he's got in this office," Rove said. "He came here to do things, and he's going to keep doing things right up to the moment that he leaves on January 20th, 2009."
Rove's effect on American politics will be decided by "how the president is judged," said GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of those GOP presidential candidates.
"And I think the president's going to be judged on what happens, to a large degree what happens in the war in Iraq."
Rove appeared on "FOX News Sunday," NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS' "Face the Nation," while McCain was on CBS.