President Bush has chosen Ken Mehlman, manager of his successful reelection campaign, to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee, the White House announced yesterday.
Mehlman, 38, known for his loyalty to Bush and his assiduous attention to detail, said his main goal will be to strengthen the majority party status of the GOP, reaching out to women, minorities and Jewish voters.
Mehlman is a favorite of Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and he has functioned as a kind of chief operating officer, translating Rove's strategic ideas into actual practice.
"Our party has an historic opportunity as a result of the 2004 election and the administration and congressional agenda to strengthen and build the party in the long and short term," Mehlman said in an interview.
At the top of Mehlman's agenda will be the institutionalization of the 72-Hour Project, the intensive voter mobilization program at the RNC that worked to great success in both 2002 and 2004, producing record numbers of Republican voters at the polls.
Mehlman said he would like it to become the 72-Month Project and include such activities as getting local activists regularly on talk radio and the Internet.
Interviewed later on CNN, Mehlman declined to take a stand on the most vexing issue facing the GOP: whether Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) should become chairman of the Judiciary Committee after suggesting the Senate is unlikely to approve Supreme Court nominees opposed to abortion rights.
"It's up to the U.S. Senate to decide," Mehlman said, adding that the election results made clear "there should not be litmus tests and the era of litmus tests in the U.S. Senate before qualified men and women are confirmed needs to come to an end."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mehlman was chosen in part because he "was instrumental in overseeing our 2004 historic election night gains. More importantly, Ken has a clear vision for making our gains long lasting."
Mehlman, a native of Baltimore County, has been active in Republican politics since 1980, when he went door-to-door in support of Ronald Reagan.
After graduating from Franklin and Marshall College and Harvard University Law School, he worked at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of Washington's major law and lobbying firms.
Mehlman served as legislative director to Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tex.) from 1994 to 1996 and as chief of staff for Rep. Kay Granger (R-Tex.) from 1996 to 1999.
In the 2000 Bush campaign, Mehlman was initially Midwest regional political director and then became national field director. Before taking over the 2004 campaign, Mehlman was White House political director.
Mehlman will replace Ed Gillespie as RNC chairman. Gillespie had been one of the key strategists in the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, and he went on to found an instantly successful lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
Gillespie plans to return to Quinn Gillespie with his ties to the Bush administration further strengthened as a result of the Bush victory.
Mehlman must win the approval of the full RNC when it meets in January, but the vote will just be a formality barring an extraordinary turn of events.