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Monitor Breakfast

Selected quotations from a Monitor breakfast with White House Political Director Kenneth Mehlman

By David T. Cook / October 22, 2002



Kenneth Mehlman is director of Political Affairs at the White House, and deputy assistant to the president. He is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College and of Harvard Law School, class of 1991. In the 2000 election, Mr. Mehlman was national field director for the Bush- Cheney effort. According to "Time Magazine," Karl Rove's plans for the 2004 election include having Ken Mehlman leave the White House to be the official campaign manager for the president's re-election bid.

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On reports congressional Republicans and the White House are optimistic about taking control of Congress and are planning a legislative agenda based on such control:

"I would say we are cautiously optimistic about the House. It is a six-seat majority. By definition, that is a close election. I think we are in a good position because of the candidates we have recruited, and the campaigns they are running. We feel pretty good about it. But it is very close.

"In terms of the Senate, there are a huge number of competitive races. I think people who are saying we are going to definitely pick up the Senate, they are not the people I am talking to at the White House. That is certainly not what I have advised anybody.

"We are focused on this next election we are not making plans for the future ... because we don't know what will happen in this election."

On the significance if Republicans do not lose seats in Congress in an off-year election:

"Historically, the president's party takes a drubbing in off-year elections. So if we don't take a drubbing, that will be a positive statement. If normally you get drubbed, and you don't get drubbed, that is both historic and meaningful."

On the outlook for governors' races:

"The background for the races is that a lot of large states where there are lots of swing voters, you have had Republicans in control for a while. And so for Republicans to retain control in those states, you start off with a difficult and a competitive race. That having been said, I think in a number of them you have Republicans running strong campaigns and you also have a number of other states, Maryland for instance, where you've got Democrats who have been in office for a while, and, as a result, people might want to make a change.

"So governors' races are going to be competitive this year. They are going to be tough because we have got a lot of retiring franchises. But the reality is [that] there are other opportunities – other states like an Alabama or a South Carolina or a Maryland – where our challengers are in a strong position."

On whether Jeb Bush will win reelection in Florida:

"It is a very competitive state and it is a state with more Democrats than Republicans. So all statewide elections, or most of them where you have got respectable candidates being offered by both parties, end up being competitive. That having been said, I am confident Jeb Bush will get reelected."

On impact of the president's popularity:

"His popularity and his leadership have prevented the other side from trying to nationalize –from trying to run an anti-Bush campaign, the way the Republicans ran an anti-Clinton campaign in 1994, and the way the Democrats ran an anti-Reagan campaign in 1982. That is an accomplishment in and of itself, but nevertheless, these are still very hard elections because they are by definition off-year elections."

On the public's view of the economy:

"So the public clearly has concerns about the economy but those concerns are not necessarily being taken out on public perceptions of the president."

On the most important lesson he has learned from Karl Rove, senior adviser to the president:

"I think Karl believes elections are won on the basis of issues and elections are won on the basis of running a positive campaign on those issues. And there are a lot of people in the business who believe it is about tactics – who think it is about some [television] spot you can do."

On whether, as reported, he will leave the White House to run the president's reelection campaign:

"I have no plans beyond election day. Hopefully we will be celebrating that night, but maybe not. It will be very tough."

On technology and campaigning:

"I personally believe the more sources and venues of information out there – the more websites, the more chat rooms, magazines, the more newspapers, the more people are able to niche things, the less effective a mass media campaign is and the more effective you are to communicate by neighbor-to-neighbor, grass roots.

"Ironically enough, the technological advances of the last 15 years have made television less relevant to campaign success and grass roots more relevant because people can tune it (television) out."

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