Karl Rove, a Republican strategist and former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, told S.C. Republicans Saturday they must re-elect U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson and retire Democratic U.S. Rep. John Spratt.
"(Democrats) want Joe Wilson out, they know what a strong symbol he is," said Rove of the Lexington Republican who has been targeted by national Democrats after last year shouting "you lie" at President Obama during a nationally televised joint session of Congress.
"They want him out. They know what it would mean in red, red, South Carolina to get him out of here. They're trying to pull a surprise on us; let's pull one on them. Let's retire Spratt."
Rove was the keynote speaker at the S.C. Republican Party's 43rd annual Silver Elephant Dinner. The dinner capped a big political weekend in South Carolina that included two gubernatorial debates and both parties' annual fundraising dinners.
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The Silver Elephant Dinner ended with a straw poll, a staple of election years. In the Republican race for governor, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett (37 percent) eked out a victory over Attorney General Henry McMaster (34 percent). Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley finished third with 19 percent and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer finished in last place with 10 percent.
Admission to hear Rove ran at least $100, which bought a single seat, a chicken dinner and hours of speeches, including from the Republican candidates for governor. Those who paid up to $1,500 got access to a private reception, a photo with Rove and an autographed copy of his new book.
Rove, who spoke for more than an hour, talked mostly about President Barack Obama's federal stimulus package and recently passed health care overhaul.
Rove said the $787 billion plan Congress approved to help stem the tide of unemployment and help states shore up their budgets has been a failure, neither delivering the jobs promised nor stimulating a U.S. economy he said will be crippled by massive government debt.
"Barack Obama will run up more debt in his first 120 days in office than George W. Bush did in eight years," Rove said.
Rove said federal health care reform is unnecessary and it is an affront to freedom to force Americans to buy health insurance. Rove went through a series of what he called flaws in the bill.
"This is the first time in American history we are going to force somebody to buy something as a condition of being alive," Rove said.
He also said the Obama contention that the health care reform bill would not add to the national debt is wrong.
"We sent Bernie Madoff to jail for this kind of stuff," Rove said.
Rove again touched on how important South Carolina was to electing George W. Bush in 2000. The campaign landed in the state having lost to McCain in Iowa and New Hampshire.
We knew "if we lose here we're dead, if we win we are the Republican nominee," Rove said.
Rove said he's optimistic Republicans can get back on the winning track. He cited opposition of federal health care reform and Republicans' willingness to talk about health care reform, something Republicans had been loathe to discuss during his time in the White House.
"They've started to find their voice in the last year and a half," Rove said.
In S.C., Republicans dominate and do not seem to be in danger of losing control.
The GOP holds six of eight seats in the S.C. congressional delegation, eight of nine constitutional offices - all except state superintendent of education - and firm control of both the S.C. House and Senate.
The state evidently has its eye on running the national party.
McMaster, in introducing Katon Dawson, predicted the former chairman of the S.C. Republican Party will be "the next chairman of the national party."
Dawson ran unsuccessfully for the seat now occupied by Michael Steele, who has come under fire for how he has managed the party's funds and an embarrassing episode where party funds were spent in a sex-themed California night club.
The S.C. Republican Party's current chairwoman, Karen Floyd, said Democrats should not be underestimated. In South Carolina, she said Democrats plan to put all of the party's resources behind winning the governor's office, critical this year because a Democratic governor is the party's best shot at influencing the upcoming redrawing of the state's election map.
"Main thing is to win back the United States of America," Floyd said. "The way we do it is elect conservative Republicans."