If political operatives are measured by return on investment, Karl Rove is the equivalent of Greece.

The onetime top aide to President George W. Bush directed the biggest outside money groups in the 2012 election, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which spent about $175 million to back Mitt Romney's presidential quest and Republican candidates in a slew of hotly contested Senate races. They were virtually shut out.

Rove and his Crossroads colleagues tried to persuade their big givers, including Harold Simmons and Robert Perry, that the results would have been worse for Republicans without the efforts of the super political-action committees. Few Republican politicians agreed.

In the presidential race, President Barack Obama's operatives were surprised -- and delighted -- that American Crossroads, with its deep pockets, failed to come to Romney's defense when the Democrats initiated a ferocious attack on the candidate last summer. Democrats also were surprised in the fall when the outside groups' television commercials attacking Obama proved so ineffective.

In the Senate contests, there is little evidence that Rove's groups helped anywhere. A case in point is the Virginia race, which for much of the year was a dead heat between two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen. Rove's groups spent $11.4 million attacking Kaine, the single largest chunk of the $52 million of outside money that poured into the Virginia contest.

On Election Day, Kaine won by about six points. Neither side thought he would have won by more without Crossroads.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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