Transcription – Robert Shrum Interview

Q:              You had a lot of — maybe a dozen or so — same-sex marriage bans on state ballots?

SHRUM:     Yes.

Q:              Did you know that was coming and know that might be a…

SHRUM:     Sure, sure, but I mean, you know, Kerry wasn’t going to — Kerry wasn’t going to support something like that.  I mean, he — you know, his position was that he favored civil unions, not marriage, although he was very frustrated by it.  He would say to me, “Explain again what the difference here is, except that we’re denying [01:14:00] these people the word marriage?”  But there was not a single person that I talked to in the campaign, including gay people in the campaign, who thought that Kerry should be for marriage at that point, which illustrates how fast this issue has moved over the last 8 to 10 years.  So, yeah, you knew it was going to be exploited and it was going to be used to turn out these folks, and…  But Kerry was not going to endorse anything like this, or endorse a federal constitutional amendment.

Q:              That reminds me of a conversation you wrote about in your book that he had with Bill Clinton during the campaign.

SHRUM:     Yeah, he told me that Clinton had suggested that he consider just being for a constitutional amendment, and that would, like DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act], take the issue out of the race.  Well, you know, that was a step way too far for Kerry.  I mean, Kerry was the only incumbent senator up for reelection in 1996, and he was in a very tough race against Bill Weld, who voted against DOMA, and called it — I think he called it “Bigotry on the floor of the [01:15:00] United States Senate.”  So, he wasn’t going to do that.

Q:              Was Clinton, as the, you know, the Democratic president who’d been elected twice, was he a frequent informal advisor to the campaign?

SHRUM:     Yes.

Q:              And if so, what was the quality of his advice?

SHRUM:     Diffuse.  Sometimes completely right, sometimes, you know, talk about economic issues, talk about healthcare, talk about, you know, we agreed with that.  At one point, he suggested that we attack — this was when he was in the hospital, about to have his heart surgery, and we were on a conference call with him — Bush as the flip-flopper.  And I openly disagreed with him during the call.  I said, “You know, we’re going up a 180-degree cliff if we try to do that.”  And so, you know, it was — I think Bill Clinton is a [01:16:00] brilliant political strategist for himself; not always as brilliant for others.  I don’t think, for example, that he was particularly helpful to Hillary Clinton in 2008.  In fact, I think he was at times hurtful, seriously hurtful.  Now, he’s a different person, now, by the way, than he was.  You know, the more you get away from his presidency, the more people look back and say, “Gee, the economy was great.”  There is a kind of tendency to forget how bitter the impeachment stuff was, which was not his fault because they went after him, just the same way they’re going after Obama.  And I suspect that if Hillary runs in 2016, he will be a big asset, and he will be disciplined.

Q:              Well, November 1st, thereabouts, do you think you’re going to win?  And if so, how do you think you’re going to win?

SHRUM:     Well — Well, I thought we were going to carry Florida, [01:17:00] and I thought we had a very good chance to carry Ohio, which we had not competed in, in 2000.  We didn’t have the resources.  I thought we were going to carry Ohio.  And the shadow came the Friday before, when we were in West Palm Beach, and somebody — one of the advance people comes up and says to me backstage, “You got to look at what’s on TV,” and it was the Osama bin Laden tape.  And we all piled into the SUV with the candidate on the way to the airport, and he got out and made a statement, a very tough statement, about Osama bin Laden.  But you know — you knew reintroducing him at this point, with a tape that essentially told Americans to vote against Bush, was going to have exactly the opposite effect.  It was going to help Bush.  And I think Osama bin Laden was pretty smart — I think he saw Bush as a great recruiting tool for him.  [01:18:00]  And so, anyway, you had the tape, you had the Ashley ad running in Ohio, but I felt pretty good when, on Tuesday morning, we went to Massachusetts, and then when the exit polls started coming in, felt even better, and thought we were going to win.

Q:              How do you explain why the exit polls were so misleading in that way?

SHRUM:     I don’t know.  I — You know.  You know, I didn’t spend a lot of time afterwards trying to figure that out.  Mark probably could give you a better answer to that question.  And of course, by the time they’re done, they all get adjusted so they’re kind of accurate, but you know, if the five o’clock exit poll dump says you’re winning, it should be pretty accurate.  And [01:19:00] that’s when I made — I actually don’t even care, it’s, you know, somebody, and I think I know who, actually, but I don’t care, told people, and it was true, that I had called Kerry “Mr. President” in an elevator we were taking down to the garage to go over to his house.  And I thought we’d won.  And I should have known better because I’d been through this in 2000.

Q:              So, as the evening unfolded, when did you realize that that wasn’t the case?

SHRUM:     We were at Kerry’s — Mary Beth and I were at Kerry’s house, and — along with Josh Gottheimer, who was a speechwriter, and practicing an acceptance or a victory speech.  And we got a call about 9:30, saying, “You better come back here.”  [01:20:00]  And through the rest of the evening, Florida slipped away.  You know, it went — they’d say, our people down there, and the people we had sort of monitoring all this, that went from, “It’s going to be closer in Florida than we think,” to, “Gee, we could lose Florida,” to, “Gee, we have lost Florida.”  And the same process went on in Ohio, and we had a lot of lawyers prepared to go out if this became a legal fight.  And it was just clear, there weren’t enough provisional ballots in Ohio.  Now, I think a lot of shenanigans, like Ken Blackwell was the secretary of state, making it nearly impossible for a lot of African Americans to vote and a lot of students to vote, unless they waited in line 8 or 10 hours, and a lot of them just went home.  But you know, maybe historical records 50 or 100 years from now will prove that, but there was no way to prove that at the time.  And you know, so, we told Kerry, [01:21:00] and then he called me on my cell phone and said, “Isn’t there anything we can do?”  I said, “No.  There’s…”  And some people were mad that we didn’t contest Ohio and the provisional ballots, but there wasn’t anything we could do.  I mean, Ron Klain and all our legal people said, “There’s no room here.”  And so, Kerry said to me, “Will you do a draft of a concession speech and come over here at 9:00 in the morning?”  So, it was about three o’clock, and I went back to the hotel because my wife and I were staying at a different hotel than the headquarters hotel because I wanted to be able to get some peace and quiet if I needed it.  It’s about three blocks away.  And wrote a draft, and I don’t type, and I asked my wife if she would type it, and she did, and took it over to Kerry’s house.  [01:22:00]  Teddy and Vicki Kennedy were there, and John and Teresa.  He went through, made his edits, got ready, and went over to Faneuil Hall. Mary Beth came to the house, too.  We went over to Faneuil Hall, and he gave the speech.  And afterwards, for me, it was an irony — a lot of people who had been lining up to be part of the new Kerry Administration, or to wave the flag about the contribute they’d make — they’d made to the campaign just kind of disappeared.  They just left.  Then there were a lot of folks in the back, CNN, you know, CBS, ABC, people like this, who wanted to interview someone from the campaign, so I said, “OK, I’ll go do it.”  I wasn’t going to not do it.  And you know, even though I knew [01:23:00] the Shrum Curse was an inevitable…  Mary Beth, on election night, we thought we were going to win, and she and I had had our disagreements, but I think she did a very good job.  On election night — you can’t go through a campaign without having disagreements.  On election night, looked at me and said one of the things that she was very happy about was that all the guff I had taken would be upended.  But I — You know, when that didn’t happen, you just move on with your life.  And you don’t, you know, you don’t let people sort of send you into a tailspin, or say, “I can’t talk to the press because, you know, they’re going to ask me about the Shrum Curse, or they’re going to say, ‘Did you do this wrong or did you do that wrong?’”  I didn’t think it was right to leave Kerry on his own.