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Karl Rove Calls For Republicans To Replicate Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy

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GOP strategist Karl Rove called for Republicans to focus their efforts on developing a ground game in all 50 states, similar to the approach pushed by former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) | AP

After challenging Fox News' call of the election for President Barack Obama, Karl Rove is back to strategizing how the Republican Party can win future elections.

"I hate to say it, but we need to copy what Howard Dean did, and that is make our ground game in all 50 states," Rove told Sean Hannity on Monday. "While we had a reasonably good ground game in places like Ohio and Florida -- look, we didn't have a ground game in a lot of these states with Senate races and so we lost North Dakota by 3,300 votes. We lost [Montana] by 17,000 votes. We need to have a better ground game in all 50 states."

Much has been said about the Democrats' grassroots organizing machine in Ohio, but Rove fixated instead on the down-ballot losses that cost the GOP its chance to pick up a majority in the Senate. Republicans lost crucial races by slim margins in North Dakota and Montana, as well as close races in Virginia, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

Dean, who pioneered the 50-state strategy when he served as chair of the Democratic National Committee from 2005 to 2009, pushed for the Democratic Party to organize and put forth strong candidates in local and state elections across the country, even in traditionally red states. Although several advisers criticized the move at the time as a waste of resources, Democrats credited Obama's 2008 victory in large part to Dean's work.

For Dean, an integral part of the 50-state strategy involved registering hundreds of thousands of new Democratic-leaning voters in an effort to change the topography of the electoral map.

Rove also sees voter registration as a necessary step forward for a Republican Party looking to make up ground in an electorate that is rapidly shifting away from its demographic base -- older white people.

"We need to, in my opinion, reexamine tactically our ground game," said Rove, a former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration. "They did a good job of getting out their people, and we did a good job of getting out our people. But neither side did a great job of persuading new people to come out. We need to be engaged with voter registration."

Aside from voter registration, according to Rove, the GOP also needs to do a better job of mobilizing its traditional base and getting those voters to the polls. In 2004, he led a strategic effort known as the 72-hour task force, which sent Republican operatives into districts across the country to organize volunteers in a last-minute push to increase turnout.

"We need to reengineer the 72-hour task force from top to bottom to make certain that we're figuring out how best to use it, not only to communicate with ourselves but to get new people out," Rove said.

Mitt Romney's version of the 72-hour task force, Project ORCA, broke down on Election Day as the smartphone application the campaign used to track voter tallies overloaded and locked out many volunteers.

This emphasis on ground game comes on the heels of Rove's own missteps during the 2012 election cycle. After spending more than $300 million on a flood of political ads, Rove and his American Crossroads organization saw all but two of their chosen candidates lose their races. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) won reelection, and the contest in Arizona's 2nd District is still considered too close to call. Only two of the candidates that American Crossroads opposed ended up losing their bids.

But Rove doesn't want to engage in the so-called "circular firing squad" that follows a dismal election showing.

"Look, we came close," Rove told Hannity. "But he won, and we have got to acknowledge that. And we have to look at why we lost and what we need to do differently."

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