Transcription – Mark Mellman Interview

Q:                    Could you talk maybe in personal terms, part of your job is polling and it’s more than a technical skill, but it is a technical skill, plus but also you’re involved in strategy and so on.  I mean, as the long campaign unfolds, I would think that things like exhaustion and just interpersonal irritation of the people you’re working with and just the general tension of getting closer and closer to this enormously consequential decision, do those things affect performance, or do they have an effect?

MELLMAN:      Well…  There’s no question one feels [01:18:00] exhausted.  I did more all-nighters during the Kerry campaign than I did my entire college career combined, literally, and literally, even when it wasn’t quite an all-nighter, we had a meeting every Sunday morning at the campaign, to sort of go over the week’s planning, and I did a presentation for that meeting every week, where we did the simulations, we did the polling aggregation, we did all the things that we’ve talked about.  And obviously, it had to be up to date and current, and so we, you know, were getting polling numbers in on Saturday night and, you know, putting them together for a presentation on Sunday morning.  So, almost every Saturday night, I was here till 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning.  And then at a meeting at, you know, nine o’clock or ten o’clock, whatever time it was, at the campaign.  So, let alone the all-nighters on top of that.  So, there’s no question that exhaustion sets in.  Now, [01:19:00] very few people, myself included, can look back and say, “Well, this exhaustion at this moment prohibited or inhibited performance in this particular way with that particular consequence,” but we know enough from sort of general knowledge to know that when you’re exhausted, like when you’re drunk, your performance is inhibited.  Now, exactly in what ways and what circumstances, to what extent and with what consequence?  That’s harder to know, but you can’t help it if it had some impact.

Q:                    But even in hindsight, you can’t say, “Boy, if I had been fully on my game, I never would have done that or recommended that,” or, “He never would have done that,” or, “She never would have done that?”

MELLMAN:      No, (overlapping dialogue; inaudible).

Q:                    I guess it evens out, too, and the other side is presumably pulling all-nighters.

MELLMAN:      Yeah, though they’re richer and so they have…  They’re richer and they’ve had their team in place for a longer time, so you know, all those things sort of ease — I’m sure they had plenty of all-nighters — I think the [01:20:00] tension is always greater — I shouldn’t say the tension — the level of exhaustion and stuff is greater on the challenger’s side, when you just don’t have the time and the resources.

Q:                    You mentioned the exit polls before, and we’ll come back to election night, but the weekend before Election Day, were your own polls suggesting that you were going to win?

MELLMAN:      No, that we were going to lose.  Yes.  We actually had it right on the nose in terms of the numbers, unfortunately.  Before the weekend, we had been showing an uptick.  We weren’t ahead but we were, you know, moving in the right direction.  There was then that Osama Bin Laden tape —

Q:                    Well, I was going to say, you mentioned Beslan, but then there’s that Osama Bin Laden tape close to the eve of the election.

MELLMAN:      Yes, I believe it was on the weekend, [01:21:00] or Thursday, Friday, something like that.  And we definitely saw a downtick from there.  We’re talking about small ticks, small tick up, small tick down, you know, is it really that, is it sampling, I mean, it’s really hard to know exactly what’s going on there when you’re looking short time frames like that and incidents, and so on.  But there was probably some impact of that.

Q:                    When you’ve got that information and you read it in a particular way — we’re behind — what do you do with that information at a time when, you know, other people probably need to be — does it help motivate people?  Do you worry about telling the candidate, “It looks like you’re going to lose?”  I just wonder what —

MELLMAN:      Yeah, let me put it this way.  You know, I didn’t really talk to the candidate about it, but I mean, I did talk about it with the campaign because the question is, OK, yes, it’s Saturday [01:22:00] or it’s Sunday and the election’s on Tuesday, but is there anything we can do?  You have to have that discussion.  You have to explore the possibilities, otherwise you’re really — it’s really malfeasance.  So, you have to be complete and candid and honest with the campaign, even at that late date.  And certainly, I was.

Q:                    Well, and what did you all decide we need to do in the 48 hours that are left?  Were there any moves on the board?

MELLMAN:      I’m sure there were and we did something.  I honestly don’t remember what.

Q:                    Again, before we get to election night, I want to ask you this:  there were other elections going on in 2004, right, and —

MELLMAN:      Sorry, let me just go back a half-step and say whatever we did or didn’t do was not dispositive, (inaudible) not dispositive.

Q:                    Yeah.

MELLMAN:      Sorry, other elections, [01:23:00] yeah.

Q:                    I don’t know if a Democratic president has ever been elected without a Democratic Congress, certainly not in the twentieth century, and I wonder, when you’re running your campaign, is that connecting in any way with the other Democratic congressional campaigns in particular?  Were you thinking, “If we win, we want to win as leaders of a team and we’ll have a Congress that will be Democratic as well, so we’re going to do these things differently than if it was just us running?”

MELLMAN:      Well, you know, yes and no.  Did you want to have a Democratic Congress?  Of course.  Even if you don’t win, you want to have a Democratic Congress, but certainly if you do win.  So, yes, at that level.  At another level, you got to run your own campaign, and there are ways in which we can cooperate.  There are ways in which we can’t cooperate, legally, and the truth is that cooperation was mostly out of — the ways in which we could legally cooperate was mostly [01:24:00] out of my particular bailiwick, so I don’t know that much about the details, honestly.  But in my area, the potential for legal cooperation was much diminished because, for example, you can’t share polling across —

Q:                    Really?

MELLMAN:      — local polling across, I believe, yes.  In other words, I couldn’t say to Congressman Smith, “Our poll in your district shows this,” or Senator Y, they couldn’t come to us and say, “Well, we polled you in our district and this is what it looks like.”  That’d be a legal violation.