Transcription – Mark Mellman Interview

Q:                    Yeah.  Something we didn’t talk about, and that is the selection of John Edwards for vice president.  Did you do any polling in advance on different vice presidential possibilities?  [00:50:00]

MELLMAN:      Yes.

Q:                    Would you care to describe the reasons —

MELLMAN:      Not really.  (laughter)

Q:                    Did Edwards show up well in those polls?

MELLMAN:      Yes, certainly.

Q:                    And did you have a recommendation for who it should be?

MELLMAN:      Yeah.  That part, I think I’d rather leave off the record, as it is.

Q:                    OK.  But the choice is made.  Can you explain why Kerry chose Edwards?

MELLMAN:      Well…  The most important reason, I think, is what seemed to be their personal connection.  That’s always the most important reason, and it was, I think, here, too.  Obviously, as I said, things…  Edwards did things later that proved he was sort of a different kind of guy [00:51:00] than he might have seemed at the time, but he hadn’t done those things at that point in time, so you know, you can’t judge him based on what he’s going to do.  We don’t have that information.  But you know, he seemed like I think he and Senator Kerry had a connection, which was important.  But you know, from a political point of view, I’d say this:  at some level, the best thing you can hope for from — the most important thing for a vice president is to do no harm, OK?  The second thing is, can he win his state or her state?  And North Carolina was a state which was potentially in play.  Obviously, by the time we got to Obama, it was in play, but was potentially in play at that point.  And it is the one state that, if Kerry had one, he [00:52:00] would be president.  One state from which these potential vice presidential candidates came from that was sufficient by itself to make him president.  So, North Carolina loomed large.  And there’s always the hope that, you know, he can bring North Carolina.  It became pretty clear fairly quickly, unfortunately, that that was not going to be the case, to his — the senator’s great chagrin.  But…  So, that’s a second factor.  The third sort of political factor is that he was extraordinarily well known by that point and extraordinarily popular, and you know, seen as reinforcing the message that we had of being on the side of the average person, and so on.

Q:                    The North Carolina thing is interesting because did you just miscalculate there and assume that he would do more to bring North Carolina within the fold than he was able to do?

MELLMAN:      Well, I’m not sure it was a miscalculation so much as it was a hope [00:53:00] that, you know, that he might be able to do that.  Again, I mean, no one of these things by itself is the reason.  It’s not as if sort of nothing else, it was just about North Carolina, but you sort of look at all the factors and you say, “Well, if he can bring North Carolina…”  Let’s put it this way:  Dick Gephardt, who I say I love dearly, is not going to bring North Carolina.  He may bring Missouri, but Missouri was not enough to win.  North Carolina was enough to win.  So, you know, that’s really the kind of calculation, it’s that part of the calculation.  But the…  And, you know, Joe Lieberman, you know, Connecticut would be there anyway, so you weren’t going to win, you know, Senator Kerry was going to win Connecticut regardless of whether Lieberman was on the ticket or not.  So, at that level, you’re not making guesses, completely, but you’re making some rational calculation.  And the calculation, you know, as I say, [00:54:00] it soon became clear that that was not going to be sufficient, and then we sort of pulled out of North Carolina for all intents and purposes.  And we stayed there a little bit longer because — than we probably should have because Senator Edwards was now on the ticket and was the vice presidential candidate and it was his state and he wanted to work longer and harder there than probably was justified.  But nonetheless, it was, you know, it was worth a try and it didn’t work.

Q:                    Before we get to the Republican convention, another question about the voters.  How did —

MELLMAN:      Sorry, it was worth a try and it didn’t work — nobody thought it was a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination.

Q:                    Oh, I understand that.  Another question about the voters.  I’ve seen you quote as saying — and maybe I’m not getting it just right — that if you ask voters, “What are you most concerned about,” they would talk about their economic situation.  If you ask voters, the same voters, “What should the president be most concerned about,” they had a different answer.  Am I getting this right?  (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)

MELLMAN:      I think so.  National security was the — Yeah, yeah, yeah.  So —

Q:                    That’s very interesting because I think that — I think most people assume [00:55:00] that voters care about something, they want that to be the thing the president cares about the most.

MELLMAN:      Yeah, well, and not necessarily.  In this case, obviously, people were saying something different about what they were more interested and what they thought the president should be most focused on.  Part of that stems from what they see government is doing, as to say they think government is in charge of protecting us.  They don’t think the government is in charge of the economy, for good reason.  Governments, you know, if the government could control the economy, we would be in a very different position today than we are.  So, people are not foolish in making that calculation; they know that, you know, the government is the only thing that’s there defending them and protecting them from terrorism and from overseas, whereas the government’s not the only operative, the only factor operative in the economy.  Second, there’s a question of the candidates and the differences between the candidates.  You know, did people really see one [00:56:00] as better than the other, in terms of dealing with those problems?  And that’s a second factor.  So, both those dimensions are important.  But, you know, the national and security issues obviously were there and weighed heavily because of September 11, because of Iraq and Afghanistan.  But also — and this is a little — I may be getting ahead of your schedule here, but very little remarked on even in the immediate aftermath of the election, except by me, but actually very important at the time.  Not even remembered today, and that’s Beslan, the terrorist attack at Beslan, in the Soviet Union.  Or was it then the Soviet Union?

Q:                    Chechnya.

MELLMAN:      Chechnya, yeah.  But in any event, you know, here was people’s worst nightmare.  They were watching a terrorist take over a school and shoot children and shoot them in the back as they’re running away, by the scores, if I remember correctly.  It was [00:57:00] right on the eve of the Republican convention.  It was the attention, despite the fact that we don’t talk about it now, we forget about it completely, the level of attention that people paid to that story was, if I remember correctly, almost as great as the level of tension they paid to the conventions.  And so, here you had this tremendous story that put widely viewed, widely watched, and viscerally dramatic story of children being killed by terrorists, right on the eve of the Republican convention, for which the message was, “You need a president who’s tough on terrorism, knows how to deal with it, and George Bush is that person.  So, it really — in and of itself, it would put the issue back on the agenda in a very significant way, (inaudible), and it set the stage for the Republican convention that was almost solely focused on that issue.  And so, that’s one of those circumstances that nobody except the Chechens, [00:58:00] I guess, have any control over.  But I’m sure they didn’t time it for the Republican convention.