Reports vary as to how Rove came into possession of stationery bearing the name of Alan Dixon, a Democratic candidate for the relatively minor office of state treasurer, but not about what came next.
Rove printed up a flyer made to look like it came from the Dixon campaign, promising "Free Beer, Free Food, Girls and a Good Time for Nothing". As Rove writes in his newly published book Courage and Consequence, he distributed it to "vagrants, homeless and drifters in bad parts of downtown Chicago and at a free rock concert".
Though Rove professes to regret what he terms a "prank", there is a note of glee in his account of the mayhem that ensued when the cast of unruly characters made their way to Dixon's campaign headquarters, expecting the promises to be met.
By 1973, Rove was in the news again, when a seminar he ran was taped by a participant. Rove and a colleague were heard recounting the Dixon tale and noting the useful information that could be gleaned by going through opposing candidates' bins. A Washington Post report into the incident carried a headline indicating that the Republican Party was probing Rove as a 'Teacher of Tricks'.
Rove has become synonymous in liberal minds with toxicity. Barack Obama, during his 2008 campaign, implored audiences to break away from "a Karl Rove-style of politics" -- and was met with acclaim almost every time he said it.
True to his reputation for both thinness of skin and detail-obsessed nerdiness, Rove told The New York Times recently that he had tallied the number of occasions on which Obama had used his name in this way but had "lost count at 178 times".
Rove's memoir gives him the chance to put forward his side of the story -- both as it pertains to himself and to Bush. It is an opportunity he takes with relish.
The credibility of Rove's assertions varies enormously from case to case. His detractors have long pointed to two campaigns, in particular, as evidence of his willingness to smear opponents.
They argue that the main change from his 1970s embarrassments has been an improved ability to keep his fingerprints off the dagger.
Critics of Rove have long charged that rumours were spread falsely alleging that Richards was lesbian. Rove has always denied this. In his book, he complains that it was Richards who had been "emphasising sexual preference" by talking up the fact that she had appointed openly gay and lesbian people to state positions. "She had to know she was offending socially conservative people," Rove comments.
The second controversial campaign -- and the one that has more than any other crystallised the negative image that still clings to Rove -- came in 2000. Bush was by then the clear frontrunner to become the Republican Party's candidate for president. But his bid threatened to come off the rails when John McCain beat him by a wide margin in an early contest in New Hampshire.
In order to save Bush's candidacy, a win in the next significant state to vote, South Carolina, was essential. Numerous press reports have outlined the repellent campaign that was launched against McCain. Untrue accusations suggested that McCain had fathered a child with an African-American prostitute. The 'proof' for the allegation came in the shape of pictures of McCain's family, which includes a daughter, Bridget, who was adopted from a Bangladeshi orphanage.
The origin of the smears was never uncovered. Rove has denied having anything to do with them, though many people -- including McCain's close aide John Weaver -- have treated these denials with scepticism.
Rove's book characterises the campaign in a more tame way than most, and sources the negative comments about McCain to an email disseminated by a professor at an ultra-conservative university in the state. "The Bush campaign and I had nothing to do with (it)," he writes.
Of course, it is Bush himself who lies at the centre of Rove's tale. The aide's admiration for the man is immense and apparently sincere. In fact, some of Rove's descriptions of Bush have fuelled liberal mockery.
Recounting his first meeting with the young Dubya, he writes: " George W Bush walked through the front door, exuding more charm and charisma than is allowed by law. He had on his Air National Guard jacket, jeans and boots."
This description moved Paul Begala, a strategist who played a key role in Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential victory, to write that the passage "works best if, while you're reading it, you listen to Donny Osmond singing Puppy Love".
The writing of a memoir often signifies that the author is about to step back from the fray. But Rove is not prepared to become yesterday's man just yet.
He is reported to have been paid more than $1.5m (€1.1m) for his book. He is a regular on the speech-making circuit, where he can command fees of $40,000. He is also a pundit on Fox News and columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
In these roles, he often dispenses advice to Republicans who want to roll back the victories won by the Democrats and Barack Obama. Rove's lack of regard for the president is clear. One of the more bizarre passages in his book attempts to rebut an accusation about him that Obama did not actually make.
Rove's ardour for this kind of tactic is hardly surprising. His attitude to politics has been immortalised by none other than George W Bush. The former president's search for a nickname for Rove eventually settled upon a Texas expression for a flower that grows out of a cow pat.
Bush christened his Rasputin "Turd Blossom".
It still seems oddly perfect.