Transcription – Ken Mehlman Interview

Q: So was this ever something that you worried about as a potential problem?

MEHLMAN: You know, we didn’t think, if you looked at where the country was and particularly where the right side of the electorate was in 2002 and 3 — I did not think that that was a real risk.

Q: OK. By the way, what are the advantages that a president gains from…?

MEHLMAN: Well, I mean, like a president has the ability to set the agenda. And the president has an ability to plan. And a president has the ability to raise resources. You’ve got the biggest bully pulpit in the history of the world. You also have a lot of problems. Everything bad that happens, you own. So there’s challenges too.

Q: Well, you all start once it became that [17:00] John Kerry was going to be the nominee… First of all, when did you come to that understanding.

MEHLMAN: (laughs)

Q: An

MEHLMAN: We had predictions, along the way —

Q: Yeah.

MEHLMAN: — a lot of us did. John Kerry, if you thought about it, was the most conventional choice, I think, to be the Democratic nominee for president. And so, while you saw the prairie fire of Howard Dean catch, you also thought… John Kerry was always a — quite a formidable candidate, I thought.

Q: And had you observed him, when you were in Massachusetts, in particular, or since then?

MEHLMAN: I hadn’t observed him much in Massachusetts. We certainly watched him in the Senate. And we watched him, obviously, as a candidate?

Q: And in March of ’04, you all started advertising —

MEHLMAN: We did.

Q: — in a big way, on the assumption that Kerry had the nomination.


Q: What were — what was the ad ca Why was it timed then? What were the themes th–?

MEHLMAN: Well, look, again, in a world where — as exists today massively but then, to some degree, too — a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. So the traditional thinking, which is advertise a lot in the fall — is a time where there’s [18:00] absolutely an absurd amount of information on the airwaves. If you live in Ohio or Florida or Pennsylvania or others — Virginia — today, in the fall you’re not paying attention (laughs) too much, because there’s so much coming at you. And what we thought was, to be able to, when there isn’t as much information, capture people’s attention probably made some sense. So that’s why we thought it made sense to do that. And also, look defining things up front, we thought was important.

Q: So wha–?

MEHLMAN: And we thought it was important — if you recall the ads we launched with — it was important to remind people the kind of leader President Bush was. These were ads, in the beginning, that were about President Bush and the leadership he had shown.

Q: The vice presidential nomination for th on the Republican side, was it ever in doubt? Was there ever any thought that an alternative to Vice President Cheney?

MEHLMAN: Well, as you know, from President Bush’s own book and from Peter Baker’s book, there was a brief discussion. [19:00] But I don’t believe it was ever seriously thought about, a change.

Q: Discussion… Can you describe that?

MEHLMAN: A discussion involving whether it made sense for — Senator Frist. And it was a discussion with about three people. And it never went anywhere.

Q: OK. You mentioned unexpected events earlier, the kind you can’t anticipate, which the president owns. So maybe you could take one of those and talk about how you all handled it. And I’m thinking of Abu Ghraib in April of ’04.


Q: So if something like that happens, tell me — tell me what the response is in the c-

MEHLMAN: Well, the reality is that’s not a political or campaign issue. That wasn’t something Ken Mehlman is responsible for handling. That’s something that the Defense Department and the National Security Advisor are focused on. We have to deal with it. We have to explain their reaction to it. But it’s not our issue, in the sense that they’re saying, “OK, Ken, how do we respond?” President Bush would not have done that. He did not do that.

Q: No, I understand that. But an event like that clearly, in c– along with other things that [20:00] had not gone as well as people had hoped, in Iraq…

MEHLMAN: Sure. Remember the nu–? We had one month where the job number was like one. (laughs) Or there was a terrible jobs report, I remember. I remember, that spring, there were a couple of just awful mornings.