Transcription – John McConnell Interview

Q: Let’s make our way en route to 2004. In 2002, the midterm, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were by historical standards unusually active in the campaign, made more appearances than any other predecessors on behalf of the Republican candidates running for office. They sort of got back in the campaign mode there for a while in the fall of ’02. [00:54:00] Were you involved in writing any of those speeches?

MCCONNELL: Yeah, I would have been, yeah. The fall of ’02, you’re saying?

Q: Yes, in the midterms.

MCCONNELL: OK, the midterms. Yeah. Yeah. I remember the ’02 midterms. I’d have to go back and look, but I remember feeling generally good about those, and some of our — I grew up in northern Wisconsin, and I remember traveling with Vice President Cheney to Duluth, Minnesota, which is not far from where I grew up. They don’t get presidents and vice presidents up there very often, although George W. did go there in ’04. But I remember Cheney went in there, and it was right after Senator Wellstone had been killed in a plane crash. Senator Wellstone had been my first professor.

Q: At Carleton College?

MCCONNELL: At Carleton in Minnesota, yes, when I was 17 years old, Introduction to Politics. And I knew him, and I loved him. He was a fine guy [00:55:00], and he was a good senator. But anyway, what happened, he and his wife and their only daughter were killed in this small plane crash. They hit a tree. It was just a terrible thing, and it was just right before the election. He was in a very close race with Norm Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul. Cheney went in under those circumstances to campaign for Norm Coleman, and I remember Cheney talked about Senator Wellstone in his speech. He said that, you know, when something like this happens, election day just seems to come too soon. But Paul Wellstone [00:56:00] stood firm and fought hard for his beliefs, and he expected others to do the same, and in that spirit it was time to resume the campaign. Then in the case of Coleman, he was elected. They had put in at the last minute Walter Mondale to replace Wellstone on the ballot, but I think it was probably already set in stone that Coleman was ahead. Then just around the country, I didn’t go on a lot of trips, but I remember just getting a pretty good feeling that it was going to be not your typical midterm election, that the president’s party was going to do pretty well and pick up some seats in the Senate.

Q: So before we get to ’04 specifically and sort of the separation between the campaign and the White House, in a midterm election [00:57:00] you don’t have that separation? In other words, the President’s and Vice President’s speechwriters are writing for them as they campaign on behalf of other candidates?

MCCONNELL: Yes. Yes. Yeah. It’s that way now. It’s just the way it’s done.

Q: Does it involve sort of changing gears, harking back to your 2000 experience?

MCCONNELL: Well, in 2000 it’s all campaign. At the White House, the campaign is part of it. You’ve got serious business going on at all times, and so I don’t remember being totally absorbed in campaign stuff except in brief periods. Really, you’re just focused on the job, on the job that the president has and the vice president has. The campaign is part of it. The ’02 campaign, [00:58:00] the things I remember about ’02, almost none of them relate to that midterm election. There was so much else going on, yeah, in the policy world.

Q: With the re-elect, when is it that the separation takes place between the White House, the president’s staff as president, and the campaign staff?

MCCONNELL: Yeah. I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you what month that people started leaving the White House to go over to the campaign. I couldn’t tell you. It’s probably late ’03, I’m guessing. I’m trying to think. Ken Mehlman was deputy assistant to the president and director of the Political Affairs Office. He was gone. He was over at the campaign, the manager. I just don’t know when that happened. Probably before New Years of ’04, but I don’t remember.

Q: Did that affect your office at all?

MCCONNELL: Not really. Not really. [00:59:00] We just did our thing. As I say, it was mainly the business of the presidency. The campaign staff, that would happen, but if the president would do fundraisers, things like that, I remember him telling us one time, “I don’t need a speech for these fundraisers.” (laughter) You know, he’ll get up and talk, but he didn’t need some involved speech.

Q: So you never left the White House staff during the re-elect year?