President Bush’s choice to head the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman, said Monday that he hoped to extend the party’s grip on power in Washington.
“Nothing is permanent in politics,” said Mehlman, who managed Bush’s re-election campaign and is now slated to head the Republican National Committee. “The goal is how do you — both in the short term and the long term — do things to make it sustainable?”
“Ken has served the Republican Party and the president with honor and distinction,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said, adding that Mehlman had “a clear vision for making our gains long lasting.”
With Mehlman and White House strategist Karl Rove at the helm, Bush won re-election by more than 3 million votes and Republicans expanded their majorities in the House and the Senate. Republicans also hold most of the governor’s and state legislative seats nationwide.
Mehlman, 38, a protege of Rove, said he also hoped to expand the Republican base. While winning re-election with 51 percent of the vote, Bush improved his support among Hispanics, Catholics, women and others key voting blocs.
The current Republican chairman, Ed Gillespie, is returning to the private sector, and the Republican National Committee will select a replacement early next year. Bush’s recommendation virtually guarantees Mehlman the job.
Bush praised Gillespie in a statement. “He helped bring many new people to our cause by sharing our vision of a safer world and a more hopeful America. His successful efforts in outreach, registration and voter turnout will be an enduring legacy on which to build a long-lasting governing coalition,” Bush said.
While Rove is considered the driving force behind Bush’s political strategy, Mehlman is widely credited as the organizing genius who turned White House orders into action. From the campaign’s headquarters in Arlington, Va., he oversaw an Amway-like political organization that recruited tens of thousands of volunteers, assigned them political tasks and held them accountable.
Mehlman directed a multimillion-dollar advertising and operations budget while smoothing over conflicts among the White House, the campaign and the scores of senior Republicans who offered advice and criticism from the sidelines.
Mehlman served as White House political director under Rove before heading the re-election campaign. In 2000, he served as national field director for the Bush campaign, charged with coordinating the efforts of Republican leaders in every state.
Before joining Bush’s team, Mehlman worked on Capitol Hill and practiced environmental law in Washington. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Democrats are also replacing their party chairman early next year, but the process is more open because there is no titular head of the party.