In early 2002, Karl Rove personally addressed the 50 most-senior employees of the Interior Department at a retreat in West Virginia. He showed them a slide presentation summarizing presidential polling and key races. Then, from the podium, he mentioned upcoming Interior Department decisions that could influence the midterm elections.
At the time, Rove noted that Oregon's incumbent Sen. Gordon H. Smith, a Republican, faced a difficult reelection. The Interior Department was then questioning whether to allow drought-stricken farmers to pull more water from Oregon's Klamath River, endangering the state's salmon population. Farmers are a critical part of the Oregon GOP base.
An inspector general's report subsequently concluded there was no inappropriate pressure on the decision makers in the Klamath case. But the controversial decision to release water to farmers resulted in the largest fish kill in the West and still angers Indian fishermen and environmentalists. Smith won reelection.