Transcription – Mark Mellman Interview

MELLMAN:      And Dean, obviously, emerged as the major competitor for the long summer, seemingly the major competitor, and Dean had [00:18:00] an important message.  On the one hand, he was very lucky.  On the other, in terms of starting this internet cascade, I mean, ultimately, I mean, I know we raised more — Senator Kerry raised more money on the internet than Howard Dean did, and so, I’m not sure that, you know, he is the internet god and Kerry wasn’t.  But in any event, he certainly developed that image which was, positive for him.  There was not a lot underneath it for him.  And so, once Senator Kerry was able to really show who he was, that support for Dean, which was, you know, sort of paper thin, at least in Iowa and New Hampshire, well, certainly in Iowa — sort of melted away.  You know, in other places, he was incredibly strong, and I remember going to the California [00:19:00] convention, which, if you’d done a poll at the California State Convention, I think Dean would have probably gotten somewhere around 98-99% of the vote at the state party convention.  And telling people, you know, California, pretty liberal state, pretty in favor of gun control, Howard Dean, NRA, against gun control, people say that doesn’t really matter.  When do you hear California Democrats say that?  And that speaks a real strong sort of attachment to him.  But by the time we got to California, all that had dissipated.  But, there were places where he did really strike a very deep chord.  But in Iowa, he didn’t, and that was part of the problem.  He was running a 50-state campaign at a time when you needed to win Iowa and New Hampshire to stay in the game.

And I think that was a strategic mistake that they made.  He traveled all over the country, he, you know, spread himself [00:20:00] around the country to, again, trying to be the national candidate, even though it was not a national election at that point.

Q:                    The decision to, well, thinking about — I’m not sure what the sequence is, but at some point late in ’03, Kerry has to decide to — whether he’s going to raise money by mortgaging his home, right?  Which ended up being a $6.4 million contribution to his own campaign.  Was that tied to or separate from the decision to go heavy in Iowa?  Do you remember?

MELLMAN:      Yeah…  I — I don’t remember exactly, but my recollection, it was loosely tied.  That is, it was contemporaneous, I think, and in order to go heavy in Iowa, we need those resource, those (inaudible) resources.  Where they came from, I mean, I’m on the [00:21:00] spending side, not on the raising side.  So, where they came from was less important to me than that we had them to spend, in those contexts.

Q:                    And why would — because it makes so much sense, when you described it earlier, Iowa, and if you went Iowa, a guy from Massachusetts is going to win New Hampshire, and then, how could — how could that person lose?  So, what was the — what was sort of the — just the process through which you made a decision, we are going to go to Iowa, when in hindsight, it seems like pawn to king four, like, you know, the move on the board?

MELLMAN:      Right.  Well, it — everything seems —

Q:                    Right.

MELLMAN:      — inevitable in hindsight, or most things seem inevitable in hindsight, and they’re not necessarily in foresight.  First of all, there was the campaign really began as a more New Hampshire-centered campaign.       Everyone assumed that was Kerry’s base because it was [00:22:00] right next door.  A lot of the leadership of the campaign, Jeanne Shaheen, others, were from New Hampshire.  And the assumption was that’s where we really got started, that you know, Dick Gephardt, you know, and others were going to really be able to make tremendous inroads in Iowa and New Hampshire was the place that was going to be the John Kerry place.  Two things changed.  One is Howard Dean, and Howard Dean emerged as a rock solid choice in New Hampshire.  Yeah, in New Hampshire.  And it became apparent from our polling that we really did have an opportunity in Iowa.  And so, it was opportunistic, in that sense.  We — We had the opportunity in Iowa, and as I said, I mean, my stake in the campaign was only two ways to win New Hampshire:  one is to save a drowning child in the Merrimack River, and the other was to win Iowa.  And we could win Iowa, [00:23:00] and so, given that, it made sense.  But there was a lot of people who argued the point, at that stage, for various reasons.  I mean, you know, it was some personal loyalties and some believed strategically that still, you know, he had that potential in New Hampshire and that he was never really going to have it in Iowa, and so on and so forth.  But at the end of the day, the data told the tale.

Q:                    And if you could talk some about what you were doing?  Because I think people hear “pollster,” so he’s taking polls to see who’s ahead.  But I know that the kind of research you’re doing is much more nuanced than that.  What were you doing as a pollster?  What kinds of things were you polling?  Were there techniques that you found to be more valuable than others?  Talk shop here for a little while.

MELLMAN:      Sure.  Well, the primary campaign in particular or in the general?  [00:24:00]

Q:                    Yeah.

MELLMAN:      In the primary, first of all, there’s a lot less polling than one would like — at least, than a pollster would like.  Again, I mean, I think there are a couple of things that we did with the polling.  One is because of some innovative ways we developed of doing the sampling, we knew what was going on in Iowa in a way that other people didn’t.  We knew we had an opportunity in Iowa when other people thought we didn’t.  So, it’s not — it’s a question there of sort of who’s ahead and who’s behind, but not quite so simply.  It’s a question of what’s our opportunity there?  Second, it’s message, what are we saying to people, and third, who — how are we saying it?  Sorry, who are we saying it to — targeting — and then, how are we saying it, what’s the way in which we’re going to communicate that message?  And you know, ultimately, we got to the point in Iowa, and then we developed ads and tested those ads.  I mean, I worked with Jim Margolis [00:25:00] developing the ad, an ad that we tested that really proved to be outstanding, but we did it from a sort of scientific point of view.  We started from the presumption that we had to change the dynamic, and so, even in Iowa, in order to win.  And that simply, you know, a list of issues or whatever was not going to be sufficient.  My feeling was we had to go deep into people’s psyche to be able to sort of elicit the kind of change in their thinking that we wanted to elicit.  And if you study psychology and so on, you know, there are the archetypes, and there’s a hero archetype.  The sort of story of the hero archetype is the person who is challenged, a regular person who is challenged, meets and overcomes the challenge, and is transformed by that challenge.  So, Jim and I, in talking about this, said, “We have to tell that [00:26:00] story and tell it in that way, so that it resonates at that very deep level.”  And so, Jim, you know, found the footage of his fellow swift boat crew saying that, you know, “The decisions he made saved our lives,” you know, we had that start in Vietnam, “and the decisions he made saved our lives,” and so you have that sort of tension, the drama to the story of the challenge.  And then he talks about how, having gone through that experience, you realize that every day is extra and you realize what you have to do and why you have to do it, and so on.  So, you had that sense of transformation that’s part of that story.  So, we really took the sort of deep psychological hero archetype and put it on the screen in that advertisement.  It was an incredibly powerful ad.  It was, I think, the single most powerful ad that was done in the campaign, and it had the desired effect.