This is the single week this year in which Karl Rove can walk into a Manhattan bar and get treated like Julian Casablancas. I'm just back from a College Republicans state chairs' party, held at a place called Windfall that looks like the love child of a sports bar and an old boys club. When Rove walks in to rally the troops, a boisterous "We Love Rove!" chant starts up, to be restarted when he finishes. His speech is a brief pep talk about the importance of active campus recruiting. He tells the crowd of a young man who had given up politics in favor of playing guitar in high school, but who, upon arriving at college, was approached by a friend to join the College Republicans. "He figured that if he played guitar and was political, he might get a date. And that young man was Lee Atwater." Quite a few people, unsettlingly, seem to find this genuinely inspirational.
Two questions along similar lines from CR guys get strangely different responses. From a California CR: "Is California still in play?" (This, recall, is the state where Gore won by a 12 point margin in 2000, and might've done better if Nader hadn't pulled 4 percent.) Rove waxes optimistic about how Republicans are closing the registration gap, and tells the questioner "it depends on how hard you work." Can the campaign give them some help in Massachusetts? "We'll be waving at you as we fly over." I can only assume the first answer is given in hopes that if they act like they can win California now, maybe in, say 2016, the state might be live.
After the great man's departure, I spot the one Ben Sherman in a solidly Brooks Brothers room (actually Benetton, I discover, but Benetton trying to look like Ben Sherman) and try to suss out how gay Republicans are feeling in light of the Federal Marriage Amendment push. And his answer's a pretty good one: That the gay rights issue is largely a generational one, and that it'll be won inside of 10 or 15 years as a result of demographic changes regardless of which party's in power. Having spent more time looking at generational demographic data than any sane person ought to, that rings true enough. The decisive issue for a lot of these guys is national security, and the GOP has done a good job of convincing folks that the Democratic response to another terror attack would be to start assigning Pashtun Berlitz tapes in public schools. The folks who were out marching this weekend tend to ridicule and be terrified by Bush's Rambo rhetoric in equal measure, but given the large swath of people for whom a sense of Democratic unseriousness about national security, Kerry could probably benefit from some tougher talk about an enemy more current than Charlie.