Interviewee: Daron Shaw
Current: University Distinguished Teaching Professor, University of Texas at Austin
In 2004: University of Texas at Austin; Strategist for the Bush-Cheney 2004 Presidential Campaign
Interviewer: Dr. Michael Nelson
Fulmer Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College
Fellow, SMU Center for Presidential History
March 10, 2014
This transcription has been prepared according to the strictest practices of the academic and transcription communities and offers our best good-faith effort at reproducing in text our subject’s spoken words. In all cases, however, the video of this interview represents the definitive version of the words spoken by interviewees.
Q: Daron Shaw, you wrote a book after the 2004 election called The Race to 270, and the subtitle is The Electoral College and the Campaign Strategies of 2004. It’s a work of political science; it’s a work of broader political analysis, but it’s also, in a sense, got some aspects of a political memoir, and I wonder if we could start with that, and that is, trace back to whatever you think is the beginning of the story, but how did you end up with the two George W. Bush presidential election campaigns, trace that back to its beginning, and then get us up to the point at which you take on a role with those campaigns.
SHAW: I’d written my dissertation when I was at UCLA on presidential campaigns and their effects, and there’s actually [00:01:00] a debate in political science about the effects that presidential campaigns have on voters, whether or not they’re consequential, or whether they’re somewhat ephemeral. So I’d been interested in campaigns, you know, all my academic life. I’d actually worked with a pollster named Fred Steeper of Market Strategies Incorporated.
In the 1989 mayoral races, I went out in the summer, worked the first Giuliani-Dinkins race [in New York], and a handful of gubernatorial elections, one in New Jersey, one in Virginia where Steeper was doing some polling. And I’d done some analysis, and was invited back out in ’92 to work the presidential, the reelection of George H. W. Bush. And I had struck a deal with Fred to keep some of the polling data, which I then used to write up my dissertation, and became the foundation of a couple of articles that I’d written, as first — I guess I had approached them as a grad student, but sort of formulated them as an assistant professor at the University of Texas.
So I was here in Austin, at [00:02:00] UT, and lo and behold, in ’97 or ’98, I was walking down the street, and a friend of mine, colleague Bob Luskin, who’s a professor here, was walking with Karl Rove, on Guadalupe, the main drag here at the university, and Bob arranged introductions, and said, you know, you all should have lunch, and shook hands, and subsequently, Karl called me a couple times. We began having what amounted to a monthly, or every six-week lunch where we’d talk about my research interests, and he’d pick my brain on some things. At that point, Karl was finishing up his undergraduate degree, which he had started, I think, in Utah when he was sort of famously in college and working with the College Republicans, but I think Karl’s political career took him away from finishing his undergraduate degree, so he was sort of surreptitiously finishing his college degree here at the University of Texas, and was taking a seminar with Luskin, which is how they met. [00:03:00]
I began talking with him in ’97 and ’98, and then I believe it was early in 1999, that I had one of these lunches with Karl, and he had asked if I would entertain the prospect of working with President — Governor George W. Bush’s kind of burgeoning presidential campaign. So this was about, I suppose, a year and a half, maybe a little more than that, out from the 2000 election. And I asked Karl what he had envisioned, and he had a couple of assignments. He and I had had a conversation about some work I’d actually done with Fred Steeper on modeling the Electoral College, and prioritizing states, and Karl was interested in that. And he said, he would like me to come on board and do some of that research for Governor Bush.
I said, I think that would probably work, but I was concerned; I was an assistant professor here, and I had a full load of teaching obligations, and Karl said, “Oh, no, no, no. [00:04:00] Don’t worry about that. We’ll work around your schedule; it’ll be fine. You know, there’ll be no problem, and you know, so I naively thought, “Oh, OK, well, I can do this without too much of a problem.” And Karl also had some other tasks. I remember, he was interested in establishing targets. We were talking about statewide targets, media market vote targets, vote goals, county vote goals, township in the New England and Mid-Atlantic state goals, and then precinct-level goals. And he asked if I would be interested in working with the team on that. And then I think there was a third task, which I believe was the Catholic vote, Karl was very interested in. I don’t remember ever doing anything on the Catholic vote.
But those were sort of the tasks that Karl had outlined in this spring 1999 luncheon that we’d had. And I checked with the people here at UT, and they basically said, you know, so long as you’re not using University of Texas equipment, or facilities, then it’s fine. You have to meet your teaching obligations, etc., but you know, I [00:05:00] checked that out and made sure I was — you know, in compliance with everything going on here at UT, and I thought a lot of the research that I had done was already in the pipeline, for my case for promotion, and the stuff I had done drew on the 1988 and ’92 presidential elections, and a little bit from ’96. I thought, if I’m going to be an expert on campaigns, if I’m going to teach this stuff, you know, I ought to know it. This is an opportunity in my backyard in Austin to participate in a presidential campaign. You know, I have sort of a personal/professional in. I’ll be doing stuff that I’d be interested in. You know, I’d be crazy not to do this. And looking back — I think I would have been crazy. I mean, the thought of missing out on that experience, and you know, the information that I had access to, the contacts and connections, and discussions and conversations, the exposure to what really goes on in a campaign really was pretty spectacular, and I was incredibly lucky to have that experience.
And the information [00:06:00] that I drew on in the book was almost exclusively provided by that experience in 2000, and then subsequently 2004 when I did work more at a distance. I stayed in Austin, but had a few tasks that the Bush campaign, the reelect and the RNC, asked me to take care of. And so, that’s sort of the parameters of my involvement in 2000 and 2004.