A post-debate conversation with Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman revealed a determined and confident Republican team heading into the final weeks of the race. Mehlman shared his thoughts on the shape of the race and then gave updates on how he thinks the President is faring in a few key states.
What was the effect of the Arizona debate?
There was an immediate angry reaction to John Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney. “Americans saw a big clash of visions and a big clash in two kinds of people–one who’s decent, the other one who’s not. It says a lot about [Kerry’s] character. It’s truly unprecedented.”
Mehlman noted that Elizabeth Edwards’s follow-up about the Cheneys’ alleged discomfort with their daughter’s sexual orientation was also outrageous. “She’s trying to divide a family that’s not divided.”
Many media reports assert that Democrats have bested Republicans in registering new voters this year, is that so?
“No. In state after state after state, Democrats are registering voters to make up for population losses, especially in cities, and they’re registering people who are not eligible to vote.”
Will those people wind up voting nonetheless? “We’ll see.”
Mehlman uses the crucial battleground state of Ohio as an example of what he claims is the Republicans’ advantage in registrations. Voters don’t register by party in Ohio, but based on registration numbers in counties identified as largely Republican or mainly Democratic based on how those counties voted in past presidential elections, Mehlman explains that Republicans have netted 100,000 new registrations over their numbers in 2000. He points out that many Democratic registrations are replacing their voters who have left the rolls. “We’re adding, they’re substituting,” Mehlman concludes.
Republicans are claiming three million new registrations nationwide. Mehlman thinks that the 527s that have been registering voters on behalf of the Democratic party have been plagued by duplicate registrations and other problems because they are less reliable than the volunteers and workers answering directly to the GOP. He emphasizes that Republicans aren’t relying wholly on volunteers, “There are 300 paid workers in Florida, for example.”
What happened to that average five-point lead President Bush enjoyed in September?
“In September, Democrats weren’t energized by the Kerry campaign. There is a relative parity in the size of each candidate’s support, but the polls reflected that lack of enthusiasm. The first debate energized Democrats. It didn’t change Republicans, it didn’t change undecideds, but it convinced Democrats to have more energy.”
So, who has the momentum now?
“We do as a result of the third debate…the last two weeks and Kerry’s mistakes.”
Mehlman points to Kerry’s “global test” gaffe, his inability to defend his health-care plan, the middle class’s understanding that he will raise their taxes and his “outrageous” reference to Mary Cheney.
He flatly states what sounds like the final weeks’ message: “John Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal on the economy, on foreign policy and on cultural issues.”
Two recent media polls have Kerry ahead in Ohio.
“I believe we’re up in Ohio and am confident we’re going to win Ohio.”
Can you win without it?
“I’m not going to try.”
And what about those discouraging polls?
“In a close election, with polls that have you up by 6 then down by 2, if you’re smart, you’ll average them and see where you really are. We’re ahead in Ohio.” He adds, “We have fantastic grassroots in Ohio and the Democrats have none. They’ve relied on 527s and it’s a command and control issue. Our grassroots are more reliable.”
How does Colorado look? There are some troubling polls.
“We have a fantastic organization in Colorado and are doing fantastic in absentee and early voting.” He adds, “Ask Senator Ted Strickland about the reliability of those polls.” In 2002, Democratic and most public polls had Ted Strickland even or ahead and while Republican polls had Wayne Allard winning reelection. Allard won 51 to 46.
“We’re stronger there than we were in 2000. In the growth areas of the state, in the southwest, in Jacksonville and in the Panhandle, there are more Republicans.” He adds, “Mel Martinez is energizing Cuban Americans and we are up in support among non-Cuban Hispanics and we are stronger in the Jewish community because of the president on the war on terrorism.”