November 21, 2004


Reshaping the electorate (Michael Barone, 11/29/04, US News)

Amid the cabinet reshuffling, little attention has been paid to the appointment of Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman as Republican National Committee chairman. But Mehlman's appointment could turn out to be as significant for our politics as Condoleezza Rice's is likely to be for foreign policy. If Karl Rove was the architect of George W. Bush's thumping re-election victory, Mehlman was the structural engineer who turned the plans into reality. Mehlman's great achievement was to create a largely volunteer organization of 1.4 million people who turned out the vote in counties big and small for Bush. He managed this task the way Rudolph Giuliani managed the New York City Police Department: by requiring metrics--numerical goals, validated by independent parties--to measure the work being done every week. This enabled the Bush organization to plug holes and to provide psychic rewards for those doing good work. No one (including Giuliani himself) thought Giuliani could cut crime in half in New York City; very few thought that Mehlman could produce 10 million new votes for Bush. But Giuliani did it, and so did Mehlman.

The surge in turnout was unusual for what was, after all, a rerun election. Turnout was up only microscopically in 1956 when Dwight Eisenhower faced Adlai Stevenson a second time. Turnout was down in 1996 when Bill Clinton faced Ross Perot and a decorated World War II veteran a second time. Many people figured they had made the decision already and didn't need to go to the polls again. Not so in 2004 when Bush faced a second liberal Democrat who had spent much of his career in the Senate. With the absentee votes in California and Washington finally counted, it appears that overall turnout was up 12 percent. John Kerry's popular vote was also 12 percent above Al Gore's. But the popular vote for Bush was up a stunning 20 percent. Before the election, some liberal commentators were claiming that Bush would win no votes he hadn't won in 2000. Not quite: He won 10 million more. [...]

Sam Walton made his fortune by selling goods at low prices in downscale rural and exurban communities where other retailers saw little profit. Mehlman won the election for Bush by increasing the Republican vote in downscale rural and exurban counties where neither party used to think many more votes could be won. Wal-Mart is now the most successful retailer in history. Mehlman seeks to be the most successful party-builder ever. No one made much money betting against Sam Walton. I wouldn't bet against Ken Mehlman either.

The real test comes in '06. Republicans tend to have a turnout advantage in midterm elections anyway--if they can keep this turnout machine up and running the turnover in Congress and at the state level could be devastating for the Democrats.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2004 9:47 AM

The GOP turnout model used this year was road tested in 2002 in Georgia under the direction of Ralph Reed. I used to live in Georgia, and still have friends there who have been "active" in GOP politics for years. I put active in quotes, because they all told me that they just thought they had "worked" in elections before. The defeat of Max Cleland was a surprise to some, but the loss of Roy Barnes to Sonny Perdue was a shock to all but those who had seen how much work went into getting out the vote in rural and exurban counties. Whoever the GOP nominates in 2008 had better have one qualification above all others-- the ability (character) to motivate the base to put in the hours it takes to pull off this kind of GOTV operation.

Posted by: Dan at November 21, 2004 10:52 AM

Results matter for these voters. As they say in Mississippi,'I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night.'

The Supreme Court is where Bush can show his appreciation. When Rehnquist steps down, he must appoint a 'red-meat' conservative with a track record as a replacement. If he gets two more appointments to make, then he should insure that at least one is an evangelical Christian, or totally identified publically with the hopes and aspirations of evangelicals in the public arena. All nominees for all court positions should at least be vetted privately by Ralph Reed and James Dobson.

He has 55 Senate seats and there are at least 4 Senate Democrats who are scared out of their pants about the 2004 election, so he has the perfect opportunity to pay these people back for their loyalty.

Simply put, no Souters need apply.

Posted by: Bart at November 21, 2004 11:14 AM

I think the real test will be in '08. Can Bush give a leg up to one or two likely successors? I'm also worried that a public/media perception that the war is largely won will be turned into ''now we can safely vote left'' moment, the way Churchill lost in '45.

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 21, 2004 1:59 PM

Clarence Thomas for Chief Justice. And strict constructionists for every vacancy.

Force those red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2006 and 2008 to pick sides.

Posted by: J Baustian at November 21, 2004 4:56 PM

Gotta watch the budget, too.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 21, 2004 9:23 PM

First time I noted a comparison with Sam Walton's strategy of going rural/exurban.

Posted by: Ptah at November 22, 2004 11:03 AM