Transcription – Robert Shrum Interview

Q:              Well, let’s talk about those three major strategic decisions that you identified earlier.  One, a decision not to take federal funding, which now has become accepted, but back then was unusual.  Why not?  I mean, that’s leaving a lot of money on the table, and having to spend a lot of time raising money.

SHRUM:     Because there were spending limits on what you — how much you could spend if you took it.  And because Kerry did have — we couldn’t raise money very effectively at this point — people didn’t think we were going to win.  [00:26:00]  But Kerry had money of his own that he could put in.  So, it was an essential decision.  We would not have competed successfully in Iowa without it, and in fact, we should have turned down federal funding in the general election, which John Kerry would now tell you.  We were raising huge amounts of money on the internet.  I mean, as Dean fell out of the race, folks just came to us and we had, by then, a very robust internet presence, and actually were doing some things that I think were precursors to what Obama did in 2008 and 2012, but the technology had moved on and they could do a lot more.  And you know, I think Secretary Kerry — Secretary Kerry would tell you that that was a decision we should not have made in the fall.

Q:              And the Iowa caucuses, what happened in Iowa [00:27:00] that turned it around?  Was it that Dean fell, or was it that Kerry caught —

SHRUM:     I think it was that people, as I said, I think people in Iowa, each time, it’s not the same question each time, they ask a determinative question.  And you know, in 2008, as I said, the question was, “Who stands for change?”  And Obama was running on change, and Hillary Clinton was running on restoration and experience.  In 2004, the question was, “Who has the best chance to beat Bush?”  And you could, as I said, you had to demonstrate that.  Not — You had to let people come to that conclusion themselves, but there was a lot you could do to help them.  I mean, Kennedy could explicitly say it, you could do very well on the debates, you could advertise in a way that elevated your stature, that people could see you as the most plausible person.  And Kerry was a terrific campaigner — I mean, [00:28:00] a terrific, tireless campaigner in Iowa, just going from place to place to place.  So, I think Dean fell because he wasn’t the answer to the question they were asking.  You know, there were other things that you could throw into this equation.  I mean, they brought several thousand people, all wearing orange hats, into the state to canvass for them, and that’s not a very Iowa thing to do.  You know?  Iowans expect other Iowans to be talking to them or canvassing.  So — But that wasn’t what hurt.  By then, I think Dean was — that was the weekend before Dean was gone.  I mean, on Saturday, when the word hit that the Des Moines Register poll was about to come out on Sunday and show Kerry leading, people were stunned.  I mean, you know, much of the national press was still writing stories saying, “It’s a contest between [00:29:00] Dean and Gephardt and, you know, Kerry may be moving some because he seems to be campaigning effectively, but he’s going to — you know, his best hope would be third.”

Q:              His victory was, in that way, a surprise, and certainly a vindication of the decision to put so many chips on Iowa.  Edwards did very well.  How do you account for that?

SHRUM:     Well, I think that Edwards captured people’s imagination.  He was young, he was very — he was a very good campaigner.  I don’t — you know, I don’t — he had a — you know, and people were attracted by what he was saying.  I just think he fell short in part because he wasn’t the answer to that question.  Four years later, he might have been, but he couldn’t be [00:30:00] four years later because there were these two you — A, the question was different, Bush wasn’t running, obviously, and two, there were these huge, huge figures, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and there was no room for him.

Q:              The Iowa caucuses, I mean, in effect, is that when the nomination was won?  Is there a plausible scenario that leads to somebody else besides Kerry getting it after you win in Iowa?

SHRUM:     I think very, very difficult for someone else to get it.  Very — First of all, once he won Iowa, I believed he was going to win New Hampshire and win it big, which he did.  Edwards could then be a threat in South Carolina, which he was — he won it — but at that point, people in the Democratic Party had always liked Kerry, and now that he was winning, people rallied to him.  So, I think it would have been very, very hard.  Dean was finished the night of Iowa.  He could go to New Hampshire, he could go on [00:31:00] to Wisconsin, but it was over.  And it’s not just the scream.  I mean, I think Iowa voters had, as my partner Tad Devine often said, their function is to winnow the race down to, like, two people.  And I think he was winnowed out in Iowa.  And —

Q:              Well, the scream came after he finished third.

SHRUM:     Right, yeah.  And — But the scream isn’t what hurt him in New Hampshire.  At that point, in New Hampshire, Kerry, as I said, had these very high favorables, and we were, you know, we were on a roll.  And you know, Kerry won almost everything else.

Q:              Well, it’s interesting because, you know, in a lot of years, governor — being governor had been a more desirable credential among voters than having Washington experience, and that was, I guess, Dean’s thought originally.  But, you know, 2004 was foreign policy, national security were more prominent issues than [00:32:00] they had been in quite a while.

SHRUM:     Well, sometimes, you know, I think social science is not so scientific, and we say things like, “You’re more likely to get elected president as a governor than as a senator.”  You know, Kennedy won, but you know, who else was there?  Well, Richard Nixon, who was vice president at that point, had been a senator.  Lyndon Johnson was a senator.  And by 2008, the contest came down to three senators.  So, I don’t — you know, I kind of reject that.  And you —

Q:              You don’t think that was ever true?  I mean, Carter, Reagan, Clinton?

SHRUM:     Well, I think, you know, Carter — Carter won the nomination in part, in my view, because Ted Kennedy didn’t run.  If Kennedy had run in ’76, I think it would have been very difficult for Carter to win the nomination.  Reagan was a preternaturally good politician who I almost could say embodied the heart and spirit of the Republican Party.  So, [00:33:00] I don’t think it was that he was a governor.  I don’t — you know…  But that was — In 2004, you’re right, was also national security credential was very important, and saying something like, “I don’t think Osama bin Laden is guilty,” was not by itself disqualifying, but it was certainly hurtful.

Q:              Well, so, you joined the campaign, Jim Johnson ceases to be campaign manager —

SHRUM:     Not Jim Johnson — Jim Jordan.

Q:              Jim Jordan, I’m sorry.  Jim Johnson comes in later in this story.

SHRUM:     Jim Johnson’s one of my closest friends.  (laughter)

Q:              And Mary Beth Cahill was brought in as campaign manager.

SHRUM:     Yes.

Q:              Do you have a good working relationship now with the whole campaign?

SHRUM:     Yes.

Q:              OK, and what were you doing?

SHRUM:     Well, strategy and media, and spending a lot of time with the candidate.

Q:              So, you were on the road a good bit?

SHRUM:     A lot.