Transcription – Charlie Cook Interview

COOK: If they tried that, [01:22:00] it wasn’t that obvious. Because, look, when you’re — when you’re facing a tough, tough reelection campaign, you want to keep your eye on the ball. You want to stay focused on getting reelected. And you show me a presidential campaign in a hotly contested race that’s, “Well, let’s see what we can do to help out in the House, and let’s see what we can do –” you know, some of these places — maybe places that aren’t going to affect the presidential campaign, you want to know — I’ll show you a campaign that’s running a real risk of blowing it, if they’re focused on other things. They’ve got one purpose, and that’s to win that campaign. You know, the RNC, or if you’re a Democrat the DNC, they can go off and do other things, but even those entities in a presidential year, wow. They’re pretty narrowly focused down on the presidential. [01:23:00] And it’s — so to the extent they may have done it or tried to do it, it wasn’t that obvious from the outside, but to be honest it’s the same we’ve seen in all the others. I mean, you can find some folks around Democratic campaign committees that are quite annoyed that the Obama campaign did not do much at all for Democratic House and Senate candidates in 2012. And that outcome, you know, to those of us who weren’t getting our news just from Fox, you know, that thing was kind of set awhile out. And they could have done more, but no, they didn’t. And that’s just not what presidential campaigns — reelection campaigns do.

Q: So which got — [01:24:00] I think you pointed out earlier the extraordinary Republican effort to mobilize potential Republican voters and get them to the polls. Bush got something like 10 million more votes in ’04 than he had gotten in 2000. Kerry got more votes than Gore, but Bush really expanded. Was that —

COOK: And if that happened to be in a key Senate race state, or a key House district, great. But that was purely coincidental. Purely coincidental.

Q: Bush got 286 electoral votes, which is the most that any Republican has gotten in the last six elections. I mean, you mentioned earlier that prior to ’92, the Republicans had won five out of six; since then they’ve lost four out of six and they’ve lost the popular vote in five out of six. And 286 electoral votes, that’s not [01:25:00] even a significant majority. In what way has the decline of the Republican fortunes in presidential elections been because of Bush, or despite Bush, or irrelevant to Bush?

COOK: Well, I don’t think it’s been because or despite President Bush. I think Republicans in some ways maybe are victims of their own success. And you know, I look at where we are in 2013 and say that Republicans seem to have an echo chamber, and they’re talking to themselves, and they’re talking to their own voters as opposed to swing voters. And some of that has to do with redistricting, [01:26:00] but not all of it. Some of it has to do with sort of population sorting. You know, the Democrats typically live in urban areas or college towns, and Republican voters are more spread out around. So when you’ve got one party’s voters highly concentrated, and where they tend to run up big scores in a Congressional district or a state, and sort of weigh — you know, once you’ve got one more vote than the other guy in a state or district, you know, there’s no — it’s wasted. So that I think Republicans have — they did so well on redistricting, their districts are so conservative and so white, that they’ve forgotten how to talk to minority voters. And the Bush campaign in 2000 and even more in 2004 had made [01:27:00] a very concerted effort to reach out to nonwhite voters. And… it’s — we’re not seeing that anymore. And Republicans are paying a price for that insularity.

Q: Charlie, are there other — well, let me ask you this. Was there any kind of mandate from that election? Did Bush have momentum from the election to enact any particular new policy or agenda?

COOK: I don’t tend to believe in second-term mandates. Well, I mean, if you’re reelected, people are obviously more willing to stay the course than to change horses. I think that the Bush campaign and third-party groups did a very good job of raising doubts about John Kerry [01:28:00] to the point that people just weren’t — to the extent that they may not have been happy with everything that was going on in the country. They just weren’t quite willing to make that change. And so I think on the one hand it was the doubts raised about John Kerry by the Bush campaign and Bush allies, and on the other, just simply doing — making an extraordinary effort to get an enormous turnout among Republican voters where it mattered. And those were the two central ingredients to that victory. Now, does that end result create a mandate? Not so much in my mind, but if it’s your side it’s a mandate, and if it’s the other side, other party, it obviously wasn’t. But you know, I don’t think President Obama came out with a mandate out of 2012. I don’t think President Bush [01:29:00] got particularly a mandate out of 2004. You know, it just sort of is what it is.

Charlie Cook Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 14 October 2013, accessed at

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