Transcription – Daron Shaw Interview

Q:              Let’s talk for a moment about the map [00:31:00] in 2004.  What were the battleground states in 2004, and how was the math different from 2000?

SHAW:       The main differences between 2004 and 2000 were that Florida had moved slightly down.  Florida was still a high-priority target, or high-priority battleground state.  But Ohio, which had been lean-Republican in 2000 became, maybe the battleground state in 2004.  We continued to have Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, New Mexico.  Nevada was a state that John Kerry had prioritized.  We thought it leaned Bush, but it was also on the radar screen.  Iowa, which President Bush was very keen on, and had become a target, even though Iowa has a well-earned reputation of being very anti-war, and having serious reservations about the Republican Party when the criterion for evaluation becomes military commitment.  But other things had shifted in a positive way, so that we thought Iowa [00:32:00] was some — was a state that we could flip heading into 2004.  New Hampshire, which in many ways makes it a standout amongst the New England states.  It really is the only battleground state remaining, Maine to a much lesser degree.  But, and then, you know, as I said, Pennsylvania continued to be on the radar.

The Kerry campaign, one of the difficulties of nominating a Massachusetts liberal, is that, whereas Al Gore had some Border South targets that he could look towards, Arkansas with Bill Clinton, Tennessee his home state, maybe even Georgia, you know, and Virginia were states that, you know, Al Gore could bring to the table, maybe be competitive in, we didn’t think John Kerry had a shot in those places, even with a military background, because of some of the things that had gone on.

So, the map that ultimately transforms in 2008 and 2012, where there’s some states like Carolina and Virginia [00:33:00] really come onto the scene as battlegrounds; we didn’t consider them much of a battleground in 2004.  The concentration was again on the upper Midwest.  And then the Mountain West, where Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico had begun to be real targets of opportunity for the Democrats.

Q:              Did you think it was odd that Kerry chose a North Carolinian, you know, John Edwards as his running mate, and then didn’t make a play for North Carolina, much less anyone else in the South?

SHAW:       Yeah, I think that, the conventional wisdom that, you know, Kerry would balance the ticket with John Edwards, that it would give him some strength in Carolina; it would give him some strength and credibility with the even stronger anti-war movement, because Edwards had been very vocal against the war.  But I thought at the time, and I think this is right, looking back, that the real thing he wanted to do was to bring Edwards youth, and enthusiasm, and give the ticket a sense of energy  [00:34:00] and commitment than I think had been a little lacking with John Kerry at the head of the ticket.  So, I think even though it had the smell of a classic regional pick, or an Electoral College pick, I never really thought that was the case.

We didn’t see anything in our polling information that suggested that Kerry/Edwards had a real strong chance of carrying North Carolina.  Carolina had — you know, when 9/11 happened, a lot of the Border South states, the South generally, but the Border South states in particular, I think moved towards the Republicans, that in addition to being socially conservative, the military presence and background put those out of reach for the Democrats.  And so, I wasn’t terribly surprised they didn’t make a big play for Carolina.  I think, they spent a little bit of money there, I think trying to get a splash, and again to sort of create a perception that they were expanding the battlefield, but from our perspective, there was no way that the Democrats were [00:35:00] going to expand the battlefield much from 2000, you know.

Q:              It’s such a — you know, the list of states in ’04, and the list of states in 2000, certainly more alike than different.  And I’m struck by that, because ’04 was such a different election.  You know, in 2000, Bush runs as a domestic policy candidate, compassionate conservatism, faith-based initiatives, education reform, and so on.  In 2004, because of 9/11, because of the war in Iraq, it’s really a national security election.  And yet, it sounds like, on the ground in terms of which states were winnable, which media markets were most efficient, that didn’t have — the nature of the two elections really didn’t seem that — change the map very much, is that?

SHAW:       I think that’s an accurate assessment.  The places that we were campaigning were very similar, 2004 to 2000.  There were a couple of differences.  I think by 2004, [00:36:00] the Pacific Northwest seemed gone.  So whereas Oregon and Washington had very much been a part of the strategy in 2000, they were largely written off in 2004.  There were a — we had a long conversation, I remember, in 2000 about whether at the bottom of our battleground states, sort of at lowest priority, but still in the battleground state category, whether we should focus on Illinois versus New Jersey in 2000.  And I remember one of my favorite conversations was with Ken Mehlman and Scott Douglas.  Ken Mehlman was regional director, and was giving us a lowdown on Illinois, and Scott Douglas was in charge of New Jersey.  And the conversation went roughly like this:  Mehlman spent about 15 minutes talking about how Illinois is a disaster for Bush.  There’s no ground organization.  Chicago is mobilized behind Gore. It just didn’t look like a very good investment of resources.  And he went on for about ten minutes.  And then we turned to Scott Douglas and asked him [00:37:00] about New Jersey, and he said, “I agree with everything Ken said about Illinois, and it’s still better than New Jersey.”

Q:              (laughter)

SHAW:       So, by 2004, there was a realization that classic battleground states from the Reagan elections and before, like Illinois and New Jersey, had shifted away from the Republicans, and there was no chance that they were going to be on the map in 2004.  Even Michigan and Pennsylvania, we’d spent a lot of time in 2000 talking about the relative merits of Michigan versus Pennsylvania as targets.  Pennsylvania was clearly a target in 2004.  Michigan was a little less so.  I think that that dispute had been resolved in favor of Pennsylvania still being a battleground state, but Michigan not so much.

But the observation about the similarities, I think, is accurate.  I think the way in which we campaigned though was very different.  The context had changed.  The president was running a reelection campaign, as a war president. [00:38:00] And whereas in 2000, persuasion was possible, Bush was known based on his family, but wasn’t really known nationally.  And the campaign had a lot of opportunities to introduce the candidate to the country.  Everybody knew who Bush was by 2004.  And so the opportunities for persuasion were minimal.  And what was on the table was essentially identifying people who were predisposed to vote for the president, and turning them out to vote.

And I think the parallels from ’00 to ’04, in many ways are comparable to the ’08 to ’12 dynamics that President Obama faces.  You know, you’re not the fresh face.  It’s mostly about identifying people that you think are sympathetic to your agenda and turning them out.  And as a structural matter, that meant we spent more time in places like southern Ohio, as opposed to, you know, Columbus.  We spent more time in the Panhandle of Florida, as opposed to, you know, the I-5 corridor.  So it made a difference in terms [00:39:00] of where we were, as well as what we were saying.