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“It’s probably anticlimactic,” says a political consultant with ties to the Bush administration. “Ken is probably the only guy right now, other than Rove, who could take this on down the road.” Mehlman probably will stay on with the administration until the presidential campaign season really kicks in.
Mehlman directed much of the Bush 2000 political grassroots operations around the country. When Bush blew away the competition in the Iowa caucuses, Mehlman was credited with doing much of that heavy lifting, and later served as Bush’s national field director in the fall campaign. “He’s going to have to get that same grassroots network up an running again in 2004,” says the consultant. “But he’s got the background to pull it all together, and it’s obvious Rove trusts him.”
If there are any questions about Mehlman, they have to center on this White House’s ability to rally broadbased public support for administration legislative initiatives. That task has fallen largely to Mehlman and his team, and to date, their success has been mixed. They get high marks for building grassroots support for the initial Bush economic stimulus and tax cut package, but have had difficulties selling the Department of Homeland Security across the country, let alone on Capitol Hill. What’s more, they’ve failed to win attention for what’s been a pretty good summer of legislative successes, highlighted by the passage of “fast track” trade authority.
Criticism aside, Mehlman is in the best position to take the reins of the campaign. Joe Allbaugh, now head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed the 2000 campaign and isn’t expected back. And it isn’t like Mehlman won’t have help. White House sources say Rove will most likely return in his capacity as chief strategist, along with longtime Bush confidante Karen Hughes.
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