BY HUGO TORRES
“We have seen great polarization in politics,” said Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman before a packed Austin Hall audience. “What was new in 2000,” he added, “was that it was so closely divided.” Speaking about his work on the Bush campaign as well as about recent political events, Mehlman delivered a speech that addressed the recent shifts in voting patterns and their significance to political campaigning.
Recognizing that the country was almost evenly divided in 2000, Mehlman went on to point out that if Republicans played their cards right, it would be possible to secure consistent Republican victories into the foreseeable future. Although the years since the 2000 election have not seen dramatic shifts in voting patterns among states, Mehlman argued that once-solidly-Democratic states are slowly shifting from traditional Democrat “blue” to mixed “purple” or even Republican “red.”
“How do we get from there  to here ?” asked Mehlman, noting that Republicans have seen stunning electoral successes since Bush came to office. Mehlman felt success was due in large part to Republican efforts to close the gap with Democrats on key domestic issues, such as education and health care. With Republicans being viewed as stronger on traditional Democratic issues than in the past, they have been able to make inroads into the liberal coastal states. Citing the success of Republicans in getting elected to high positions in solidly liberal states, such as Mayor Bloomberg in New York City, Mehlman feels this signifies an opening for Republicans to take advantage of. “If we can make these changes durable, then we will have something significant to show.”
Invited by the HLS Republicans, Mehlman’s speech was titled “An Insider’s View into the 2004 Elections.” Addressing the upcoming presidential election, Mehlman suggested the Democratic candidates “need to be more positive,” and that if they continued with their negative tone, they would find it difficult to connect with the mainstream. Mehlman was quick to add that under no circumstance would he underestimate whichever candidate emerged as the Democratic presidential nominee, and that the Bush team is fully prepared to wage a vigorous campaign during the election.
Questions from the audience focused on the upcoming campaign, with questions on the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton and possible battleground states. Mehlman concluded his talk by urging HLS students to become more involved in public service and government.
A graduate of Harvard Law School (class of ’91), Mehlman has held various political posts since graduating from Harvard, including stints as legislative director for Texas Congressman Lamar Smith and chief of staff to Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger. During the 2000 presidential primaries, Mehlman served as Midwest regional political director, helping to engineer Bush’s Iowa caucus victory. During the regular campaign, Mehlman was national field director, overseeing strategy in all fifty states.
Prior to embarking on a political career, Mehlman practiced environmental law in the D.C. area.