A Mehlman-Influenced Campaign

A meme's developing out there about the creeping influence of Karl Rove on the McCain campaign. The theory goes like this: new campaign chief operations officer Steve Schmidt worked with Rove in the White House and is a disciple of his brand of politics; Nicolle Wallace was a Rove confidant when she was White House communications director and is now a newly-minted, newly-empowered senior adviser to McCain. Charlie Black has Rove's ear and McCain's. Mike DuHaime, the new political director, was a Bush-Cheney campaign regional campaign manager in 2004. Though Rove has counseled McCain -- urged McCain -- to treat Obama like the way Republican campaign generally treats a Democratic challenger, and though both Rove and Schmidt share a passion for creating clear differences between candidates, the chain of associations between the McCain campaign higher command and Karl Rove is missing a very important link.

That link is Ken Mehlman, now a senior executive with Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts & Co., formerly Bush's campaign manager and the chairman of the Republican National Committee. If Mr. Schmidt and Ms. Wallace are loyal to any strategic approach, it is Mehlman's and not Rove's; the same goes for DuHaime, whom Mehlman mentored. Mehlman, more than Rove, focused on metrics and execution, just like Schmidt. It was Mehlman who advised the first iteration of the campaign to hire Brian Jones and Danny Diaz as communications chiefs; Mehlman who helped the team recruit field directors. (Mehlman was neutral during the primary and advised every campaign at some point or another.) And it is Mehlman's approach to running a campaign that Schmidt plans to emulate and refine.