- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 24, 2004

President Bush’s campaign manager, who beat the Democrats at their own “get-out-the-vote” ground game on Nov. 2, plans to build on that strategy when he becomes chairman of the Republican National Committee.

“One of my jobs at the RNC will be to institutionalize this grass-roots focus,” Ken Mehlman told editors and reporters of The Washington Times in his first postelection editorial board interview.

“We have an opportunity to take that and make it durable and continue building on the gains we’ve made,” he said during a visit to the newsroom at The Times.

For decades, Democrats did a better job of turning out voters on Election Day, but Mr. Bush’s too-close-for-comfort victory in 2000 persuaded Republicans to emulate the Democrats’ grass-roots efforts and eventually exceed them.

Although Sen. John Kerry turned out large numbers of Democrats earlier this month, the president turned out even more Republicans. Mr. Mehlman explained that although Democrats used paid union members to get out the vote, Republicans used volunteers who were neighbors of the voters they targeted.

“At the end of the day, love beat money,” he said. “And the fact that 1.4 million volunteers, and 7.5 million e-activists, were out working their hearts out, day to day, beat a paid army.”

Mr. Mehlman acknowledged that maintaining that grass-roots enthusiasm will be a major challenge as Republicans look ahead to the midterm elections in 2006 and the presidential race in 2008.

“How do we keep folks motivated?” he said. “Look, is the 2006 election a challenge? Absolutely. Historically, it’s a difficult election for the president’s party” in the sixth year of his term.

But he insisted that Mr. Bush’s agenda for tort reform, tax simplification and the partial privatization of Social Security will attract even more voters to the Republican Party, which already controls the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate and a majority of the governorships, including in the four most-populated states.

“We have an extraordinary opportunity — an opportunity that we as a party haven’t had in a generation — where we simultaneously have an ideologically conservative majority and an operationally conservative majority. And that’s what we didn’t have before,” he said.

He noted that when President Nixon was re-elected in 1972, Republicans did not control the House or Senate. When President Reagan was re-elected in 1984, the party did not control the House or many governorships. And when Republicans took over the House in 1994, they lacked control of the White House.

“The historic moment that we have as Republicans today is totally unprecedented in any of our lives, in my opinion,” Mr. Mehlman enthused. “We really are at a very unique moment that we now have, in my opinion, an obligation and an opportunity to seize.”

It was a reference to Mr. Bush’s plan to spend the “political capital” he earned during the campaign on aggressively enacting his agenda.

“The most important thing I see happening is, I think, we have an opportunity to put forward very bold policies,” Mr. Mehlman said. “The second term is when we need to do a lot of this stuff.”

He said he hasn’t thought much about the 2008 presidential election, for which no Republican has emerged as the party’s likely front-runner. Vice President Dick Cheney has said he has no desire to succeed Mr. Bush.

Asked about possible Republican presidential candidates, Mr. Mehlman said many names have been discussed in newspapers, TV stations and other news outlets. He mentioned, in order, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; Colorado Gov. Bill Owens; Arizona Sen. John McCain; former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani; Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; New York Gov. George E. Pataki; Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and Virginia Sen. George Allen.

As for Democrats, he mentioned Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina as “the people that you hear about as most likely to run.”

“When you look at the people on our side,” he said, “there’s nothing that makes me prouder to be a Republican.”

Although he noted that he has not been named chairman of the RNC, Mr. Mehlman said he looks forward to competing against the incoming chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which is up for grabs among a variety of candidates, including former presidential candidate Howard Dean.

He also said the Democrats will have to do some serious soul-searching about their overreliance on “Bush hatred” as a campaign strategy in 2004.

“One of the lessons of this campaign is that anger is not an agenda and, frankly, that anger, by itself, is not sufficient to win elections,” he said. “You need a positive agenda.

“The country has demonstrated over the last many elections that yesterday’s ideas — whether they be higher taxes, whether they be more bureaucracy, more regulation — are not where people see the future going,” he added. “Government that says, ‘We the elite know better for the people’ I think is fundamentally not a model of government that is likely to attract majority support in America in the 21st century.”

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