Transcription – Mark Mellman Interview

Q:                    Did you feel, as a campaign strategist, that there are things that Senator [00:43:00] Kerry is prone to do that are playing into their hands?

MELLMAN:      Well, “prone” is the wrong word, but things that were done, that did, yes, that’s an example.  You know, as I said before, everybody — I mean, as I said before, Senator Kerry’s incredible intelligent and articulate, and he proved that, I think, beyond all doubt in the debates, as I suggested before.  On the other hand, can he get himself in verbal knots?  And the answer is also yes, he had done that before.  What was particularly problematic in this case was, as I said, that it was right on, in a way that reinforced the message, the story that they were trying to tell on the other side, and so it made it vastly more important than it would have been if they were trying to say he was too liberal.  And he’d say that, it wouldn’t have had the same resonance by any stretch of the imagination.  So, it was an unfortunate confluence of events.

Q:                    Also during the spring, you’ve got a lot of money that pre-McCain-Feingold, might have gone [00:44:00] in to the parties in the form of soft money, it’s now going to these newly prominent, at least, 527 independent groups.  Some of which are spending a lot of money on behalf of Senator Kerry, I know, with no coordination.  But how did you feel within the campaign?  These groups are spending a lot of money, running a lot of ads, making arguments to help your campaign, at least intended to.  Were they helping, were they the right kind of ads, are they the kind you’d have made if you’d been allowed to?

MELLMAN:      Well…

Q:                    They were very much anti-Bush, as I recall, rather than pro-Kerry.

MELLMAN:      Yeah.  I remember them later on.  I don’t remember really what they were doing in that spring, just honestly don’t remember.  But you know, it’s really very hard to reshape attitudes towards an incumbent president.  The volume [00:45:00] of information that people have about that incumbent president is huge, and each incremental drop of information they get from an ad is a very small proportion of what they know about that individual because they experienced him in these cases, as president for many years.  They see the news, he’s on it every night, and so on and so forth.  The impact of that information on a relatively less well known candidate like Senator Kerry is much bigger because each of those sort of droplets of information constitutes a much larger share of the overall proportion of information they have about Senator Kerry.  So, at that point, it was very important to us to shore up Senator Kerry’s image.  And that’s why — And we didn’t have the resources to do that.  It’s why we made the convention, frankly, somewhat more about Senator Kerry than about Bush.

Q:                    So, the convention is in July, I think the second half of July.  [00:46:00]  March, April, May, June, first week or so of July, are there things that you’re doing then that you think are helping to get out the information about Kerry that will cause voters to change their perception of him?

MELLMAN:      Well, certainly the convention was designed to do that in a variety of ways.  You know, there are a few points where we overdid it.  Not “we,” but individuals overdid it, perhaps.

Q:                    Maybe set the stage here:  what was your goal or goals for the convention?

MELLMAN:      Well, I — the goal for the convention was, I think, first and foremost to pass the national security test.  And second, to introduce Senator Kerry to people as somebody who understood their problems, cared about them, and was focused on their economic plight as well as on — as passing that national security test.  [00:47:00]  I think those were the two, as I recall, those were the two major goals we had going into the convention.  And so, there were a lot of things that we did at the convention to further that.  Everything from the generals that we had on the stage and — to endorse him and talk about him and so on, to his own speech, to the swift boat veterans.  You know, all those kinds of things, I mean, who had served with him, all of those things were done to try and accomplish those goals.

Q:                    What worked best and what fits into the category of overdone?

MELLMAN:      Well, you know, my own personal view, somebody else, another Vietnam veteran, suggested to him to start with that, you know, “Reporting for duty” salute.  It was perhaps a little over the top.  I know some people thought it was, some people thought it wasn’t, but…  So, [00:48:00] if there’s something I would identify as potentially over the top at the convention, that was probably it.  But I think the convention worked relatively well for us in achieving both of those goals.  You know, unfortunately, some people had put out the notion that we should be ahead by 10 points or something after the convention, and that just wasn’t going to happen.  It just was not a realistic goal for us after the convention.  But I think we did, importantly, though not completely, accomplish the objectives we set for ourselves.  I mean, the other issue was the timing of the convention, and again, there’s just, you know, that’s fate, and you know, you try and — people who set the time, it wasn’t us, but set it based on the experience of four years before, and sort of you’re always fighting the last war.  And so, July’s way too early to do these conventions.  [00:49:00]  And now, they’re in September for all intents and purposes, and so, everyone sort of learned that lesson, that July’s a bad time.  But unfortunately, we were stuck in the learning curve.

Q:                    You’ve got this big lump — the Olympics, right? — so you’ve got to be before it or after it.

MELLMAN:      Right.

Q:                    So, you all went before.  I wonder, this is more a question about the electorate, I guess, because you say people thought you should have gotten a big bounce.  You didn’t get a big bounce.  You got a —

MELLMAN:      Well, I shouldn’t say people thought — there were individuals who said to the press we should.

Q:                    Is that because there are fewer votes up for grabs now?  Is it because the electorate is more locked into partisanship and there are fewer sort of —

MELLMAN:      That’s the main reason.

Q:                    That’s the main reason?

MELLMAN:      Yeah.  People are just, you know, there’s fewer people to move around.