Democrats will lose even more congressional seats two years from now, former George W. Bush political aide Karl Rove predicted Tuesday.
But unlike the big Republican gains this year, politics will play only a partial role in it.
Rove, in an often highly partisan speech to the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said the new census figures will show that the most rapidly growing states are those where Republicans tend to be in control. He said that includes not only Arizona but also Utah and Florida.
He said that means more House seats for those states at the expense of Eastern states which have traditionally been Democratic strongholds.
But Rove cautioned his business audience that the ability of Republicans to take advantage of this situation could depend on what voters think of the performance of the Republican lawmakers they just chose.
He said many were elected because of a tea party-inspired influx of new people into politics — people who he said until now have been “content to sit on the sidelines as spectators.’’ Rove said the new voters were motivated now by a belief that government is getting too big and spending is out of control.
The big question, Rove said, is whether the tea party will play a big role in the 2012 election.
“I don’t know if the tea party knows what it is yet,’’ he said.
“The vast majority of the tea party members I run into want it to be a group that pressures both political parties’’ on those key issues.
He said Republicans who got elected this year were able to take advantage of the situation.
“But I think they understand they’re on probation,’’ Rove said. He said they now need to follow through with the campaign promises they made to pick up that support, pushing hard — and visibly — to reverse the “big government’’ policies of the Obama administration they find objectionable.
Rove said it is possible those efforts will come up short, what with the Democrats retaining control of the White House and the Senate. But he said Republican lawmakers will have earned the respect and loyalty of these new voters — voters who he said are necessary for the GOP’s future success.
In a response to an audience question, Rove said there is no clear front runner among nearly a dozen Republicans hoping to take on Obama two years from now.
“This is going to be really good for the party,’’ he said, much in the same way he believes the battle within the Democratic ranks two years ago helped them solidify behind a leader and get him elected.
Rove said Republican voters will be asking all the contenders three questions — and three problems they need to overcome.
“The first problem is, what’s your narrative?’’ he said, with each explaining to voters why he or she should lead.
He also said candidates will need to show leadership strength, the skill to make decisions and the ability to attract a strong team so that voters could visualize that person in the White House.
“And finally you’ll need a sense at the end of this process that you’ll be able to bring us together, like Reagan did in 1980,’’ Rove said.
Rove was unwilling to pick a front runner among nearly a dozen Republicans hoping to take on Obama in two years. And he said the fact the GOP will go into the process without an obvious leader will be healthy for the party, just as it was for the Democrats in 2008.
Rove was greeted by a handful of anti-war protestors who were confined to the sidewalk outside the hotel where he spoke. But two of them managed to make their way past hotel security and, at separate times, burst into the room and shout “war criminal’’ before being led away.
If Rove saw them, he did not acknowledge them. But he did address, at least indirectly, their contention that Bush lied in selling the war in Iraq to the American public by saying that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
Rove said Bush was looking at the same intelligence data that other key members of Congress had, including Democrats who had also reached the same conclusion. It was only in 2003, Rove said, that the Democrats decided to make it a political issue and undermine the president’s standing.