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Bush picks reelection campaign manager to head RNC

Mehlman plans to broaden base

WASHINGTON -- 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 for his 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 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 his 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 on the Internet.

Interviewed later on CNN, Mehlman declined to take a stand on the most vexing issue currently facing the GOP: Should Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, assume the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee after suggesting the Senate is unlikely to approve Supreme Court nominees opposed to abortion rights.

"It's up to the US 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 US 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."

A native of Baltimore County, Mehlman has been active in Republican politics since 1980 when he went door to door in support of Ronald Reagan.

After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College and Harvard University Law School, he worked at Aiken Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, one of Washington's major law and lobbying firms.

Mehlman served as legislative director to Representative Lamar S. Smith, Republican of Texas, from 1994 to 1996, and as chief of staff for Representative Kay Granger, Republican of Texas, from 1996 to 1999.

In the 2000 Bush campaign, Mehlman was first 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.

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