WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush's political adviser Karl Rove says Democrat Hillary Clinton is a flawed presidential candidate and Republicans face a difficult environment in 2008 but can keep the White House.
Rove, who is resigning at the end of this month, is known as the architect of Bush's election victories in 2000 and 2004 but has drawn fire for the Republicans' loss of the U.S. Congress in 2006. He is a lightning rod of criticism from Democrats who say he is a polarizing figure.
But he is considered one of the smartest people in politics, and he said in an interview on Tuesday that while he thinks Clinton will win the Democratic presidential nomination, she will have a tough time in the general election in November 2008 because she carries baggage from her husband's White House years in the 1990s.
"There is no candidate on record, a front-runner for a party's nomination, who has entered the primary season with negatives as high as she has," Rove said in the telephone interview from Texas.
"She's not like a fresh and new character. She's someone who has been essentially known to the American people for 16 years. It's going to be hard to change the perceptions that people have had," he said.
Rove carefully avoided mentioning what those perceptions are, but many Republicans consider her a calculating political opportunist, and a liberal who tried to take America to an overly bureaucratic health care system when she was first lady.
A new Quinnipiac University poll showed she did have the highest unfavorable rating of the leading Democratic candidates. It found while she leads all the hopefuls, 43 percent of Americans view Clinton unfavorably compared to former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, who was viewed unfavorably by 26 percent, or Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, at 22 percent.
The Clinton campaign said the New York senator's negative ratings have actually been improving and that polls show she is the most electable of a host of Democratic candidates.
"It sounds like Karl Rove is writing Senator Obama's talking points," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. "The reality is that as the campaign now gets under way, Senator Clinton's ratings are improving because Americans are seeing that she has the strength and experience to deliver change."
Rove acknowledged Republicans will have a hard time in 2008 because historically it is difficult for the same party to hold on to the White House for three terms in a row. The last time was in 1988 when Ronald Reagan's vice president, George H.W. Bush, was elected president.
"It's difficult for anybody (from either party) to do it," he said.
But Rove, who said he has mixed feelings about leaving the White House and expects to play an informal role in the 2008 race, said Republicans can win by demonstrating "confidence and clarity in telling the American people what you want to do and how that contrasts with your opponent."
They can win "by having a prospective agenda, realizing that presidential elections are always about change particularly in the future and particularly at the end of an eight-year term by the president of your party," he said.
He would not say whether he has any favorite candidates among the Republican flock and indeed, he has close associates and proteges working at virtually all of their presidential campaigns.
Rove had some tough words for the Democrats in the U.S. Congress who have been trying to force him to testify under oath about the firings of U.S. prosecutors last year that Democrats believed were politically motivated.
He has been subpoenaed to testify but has refused to appear and Bush has protected him by asserting "executive privilege," declaring that aides should not be forced to testify about what they tell the president.
He said two of his main Democratic antagonists, New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are just trying to score political points or else they would challenge Bush in court.
"I left knowing they're not going to leave me alone," Rove said. "They are obsessed."