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Republican strategist Karl Rove's very bad night

By Samuel P. Jacobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As television networks began declaring that President Barack Obama had won re-election, the most captivating televised drama Tuesday evening played out on Fox News, where Republican strategist Karl Rove refused to believe the race between Obama and Mitt Romney was over.

"I think this is premature," said Rove, a former senior adviser to George W. Bush and architect of Bush's two successful runs for the White House.

"We know that Karl has a rooting interest," Fox host Chris Wallace replied.

More than a rooting interest: Rove was the most prolific fundraiser for Republican causes during the 2012 election cycle.

With the assistance of a few powerful Republican friends, Rove helped to secure an estimated $300 million for Republican candidates, hoping to help turn the White House over to Romney and control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans.

In a $6 billion campaign, Rove's ability to part wealthy Republicans from their money made the political operative - who co-founded the American Crossroads "Super PAC" - a force in the party's effort to take down Obama.

Democratic groups raised millions of dollars based on appeals that focused on the threat Rove and the Crossroads groups posed to Democrats.

As it turned out, Obama held the White House and in nine of the 10 Senate races where Rove's groups spent the most money, the Democratic candidate won.

On Wednesday, Republicans' discontent was evident.

Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said in a statement Wednesday that "in any logical universe," Rove "would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again and no one would give a dime to their ineffective Super PACs, such as American Crossroads."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Rove's group spent more than $1 million in 10 different Senate races.

At the top of that group, Crossroads spent $11.2 million opposing Senate candidate Tim Kaine in Virginia, $7 million opposing Representative Shelley Berkley in Nevada, and $6 million in both Ohio and Wisconsin, opposing Senator Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin, a member of the House of Representatives who was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Only Berkley lost on Tuesday.

For months, Rove's commercials told Montanans that their U.S. senator, Jon Tester, was "a top recipient of campaign cash from lobbyists and big banks."

Missourians were instructed to tell their Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, "to stop spending and cut the debt."

In those races, as in Florida and Indiana, Rove's candidate lost. Only in Nevada, where Senator Dean Heller was challenged by Berkley, did Rove assist with a victory in race where he invested more than $1 million.

According to calculations made by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that seeks more transparency in campaign finance, Rove's outfits provided dismal returns to investors.

By the group's measure, 1 percent of the more than $100 million spent by American Crossroads achieved its desired results. Thirteen percent of the more than $70 million spent by Crossroads GPS did the same, the Sunlight Foundation said.

With Obama retaining the White House and the Democrats winning many tight Senate races, other conservative spending groups faltered, just as Rove's did.

Only 5 percent of the money spent by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce resulted in its desired effect, as measured by the Sunlight Foundation.

'THIS THING WAS WON'

In an interview with Reuters earlier this year, Rove said he wanted Crossroads to be a "permanent presence" in U.S. politics, an organization that would work alongside the Republican Party and employ the party's top strategists while remaining an attractive home for the party's most influential donors.

In 2007, Rove resigned as Bush's deputy chief of staff amid questions about his role in the firing of a federal prosecutor. With Bush's legacy bruised even among his own party, the 2012 campaign provided Rove a shot at redemption.

Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday morning, Rove sifted for a few gems in the election's rubble.

He said Obama's margin of victory among young voters decreased in his second election. He said Obama is the first president to be re-elected with a smaller share of the vote than in his first election.

Saying that Romney had convinced voters he was a better leader and had a better vision than Obama, Rove offered a different spin on Romney's losing campaign.

"This thing," Rove said, "was won."

(Additional reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by David Lindsey and Lisa Shumaker)

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