Transcription – Ken Mehlman Interview

Q: All right. The Democratic Convention nears, in August. First of all, why is it that the out party’s convention is always earlier —


Q: — than the in party’s convention? Because when it comes to the funding for the general election, bo And both campaigns took the federal money.

MEHLMAN: A lot of it is just tradition, I think. And it’s just kind of how it’s happened over the years.

Q: What it meant for the Democrats, though, was they had $75 million to run a three-month campaign —


Q: — and you had $75 million to run a two-month campaign.


Q: Surprised that both parties agree to observe that tradition, when that’s….

MEHLMAN: It’s interesting. You know, today, at least, with the participation of outside groups, I feel like that makes less of a difference. But look. In 2004, if you look at outside groups too, we were outspent by more than $100 million. And we thought that would happen. I remember President Bush, one point, asked me my view what we should do if Senator Kerry had opted out of the federal match. If you remember, that was something he talked about. [26:00] And I told him we should stick where we were. And here’s why. It gets back to what I said a minute ago, about good management. Too much money destroys a lot of companies. Too much money loses your focus. Too much money bec makes optionality your strategy, as opposed to a real strategy. And I thought that $88 million, between Labor Day and November 2nd… We — I spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about the budget. I mapped it out six dozen different ways. That money would have gotten us reelected. Extra money would have diverted our attention. It would have had President Bush trying to win states we definitely couldn’t win. It would have made optionality our strategy, as opposed to having a serious business strategy for victory, which is what we needed.

Q: Would it also…? Um, I’m struck by that lonely victory possibility that President Bush wanted to avoid. Would it also have sort of drained money for the presidential, that would have made it harder for…?

MEHLMAN: I don’t think so, because… Look, we — even with our… [27:00] Having a limited budget, if you’ve got a really good plan, is not a bad thing, because it imposes discipline. And a lack of discipline, in my experience — more campaigns have lost for a lack of discipline than anything else. A presidential campaign is rarely — if you’re the nominee, is rarely lost for a lack of resources. It’s almost always a lack of discipline or a bad strategy or, at the end of the day, the opponent you’re running against is just too strong. And so we were able, with a limited budget, to not have a lonely victory and to work very closely with House and Senate colleagues.

Q: Did you work with the national organizations —


Q: — or the state-by-state s


Q: — individual campaigns?

MEHLMAN: Both. And you know why we did? We wanted them to have skin in the president’s game. So when we were trying to win Ohio, as s The smartest people about Ohio aren’t in Washington. They’re in Columbus and they’re in Toledo and they’re in Cleveland and they’re in Akron. And they’re all over the state. And so — it’s interesting — after the 2002 election, I went to every single state, [28:00] that was a major, important state, sat down with the governor and/or the senator — or both, sat down with their top political advisors, sat down with the people in the top congressional offices, all the people that understood that state. And I said, “Give me a mind dump” —

Q: (laughs)

MEHLMAN: — “Tell me everything I need to know about your state.” And I think… It’s always amusing to me, where you have these people in Washington who think they know better, who think they’re so smart. And, in fact, there’s almost no one I know in Washington who understands a particular state better than the particular people. So we constantly wanted to collaborate. And if we want to collaborate with you…? The most important thing for you is your reelection, not ours. So how do we make it in your interest to collaborate? How do we make it a win-win? And that’s what I thought about.

Q: Hm. Cou– taking you back a little bit, could you talk about, as kind of a case study — do a mind dump on the — how you all responded to Senator Kerry’s appearance in West Virginia —


Q: — “I voted for the 87 billion before I voted against it”?

MEHLMAN: Yeah. Well, as you recall [29:00] — beli– I believe it was a speech he was giving to veterans’ group. It may have been VFW. I don’t recall the specific group. And our thought was that one of the vulnerabilities and one of the important issues for the campaign was he had voted for the war but, then again, when the pressure from the various groups were there, he voted against the funding. And so we ran a simple ad that said that. And he reacted to that ad by making that famous statement.

Q: And you all made — as an attri–


Q: — as an attribute campaign, made a lot of that.