November 19, 2004

Bush Campaign Manager Views the Electoral Divide


NEW ORLEANS, Nov. 18 - After two years of polling, market testing and up-close demographic scrutiny of American voters, the manager of President Bush's re-election campaign, Ken Mehlman, offered another way Thursday to view the divide between the American electorate.

"If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat," Mr. Mehlman told an assembly of the nation's Republican governors here. "If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you're voting for George Bush."

This very bottom-line characterization by Mr. Mehlman, who is in line to become the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, came in the midst of a report on the Bush campaign that was at times boastful and at times revealing, as he described unusual methods that he said accounted for much of Mr. Bush's 3.5-million-vote margin of victory over Senator John Kerry.

For example, Mr. Mehlman, in discussing a get-out-the-vote operation that surprised Democrats in many parts of the country on Election Day, said the Republicans had moved away from traditional operations, adopting the tactics of corporate America to identify potential Bush supporters.

Rather than dispatching troops to knock on doors in neighborhoods known to be heavily Republican, Mr. Mehlman said, the Bush campaign studied consumer habits in trying to predict whom people would vote for in a presidential election.

"We did what Visa did," Mr. Mehlman said. "We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married?

"Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote - not based on where they live but how they live," he said. "That was critically important to our success."

He said that is what led him to the conclusion that supporters of Mr. Kerry had a preference for Volvos over Lincolns, and yoga over guns.

In addition, Mr. Mehlman said the Bush campaign had moved beyond simply placing advertisements on traditional television and radio networks. For example, he said, Mr. Bush began placing advertisements on in-house networks at private gyms, guaranteeing a captive audience of what he described as receptive voters.

"Because our demographic studies and analysis showed us that a lot of young families get information not at the 7 o'clock news but at the 7 o'clock workout before they got home," he said.

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Mr. Mehlman said that Mr. Bush might have waited too long before talking about a second term; the president did not turn to that subject until the Republican convention, after spending much of the spring and summer attacking Mr. Kerry.

And Mr. Mehlman said Mr. Bush had had trouble winning the support of younger voters because of what he called a "draft scare."

"It was a methodical effort by the Kerry campaign and by people who are supposed to be neutral," he said. "The MTV choose-or-lose group sent out a thing that said you've been drafted to vote. It's critical that you vote because a draft could be re-enacted.

"There was only one candidate in the campaign that talked about the draft, and that was John Kerry," he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company