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We hear what it takes to win and hold the White House.

September 3, 2012 1:08 p.m.


Samuel Popkin, served as consultant to the Carter, McGovern, Clinton and Gore campaigns, political science professor at UC San Diego.

Related Story: What It Takes To Win The White House


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: San Diego's big moment in the labor movement is remembered in a book about the free-speech fight. This is KPBS Midday Edition. On this Labor Day we mark the 100th anniversary of the free-speech fight in San Diego. It was a movement that attracted labor activists from across the nation and fierce opposition from some notable San Diegans. As we head into another national convention week we hear from UC San Diego professor and political consultant Samuel Popkin. He will talk about his new book called The Candidate; What it takes to win and hold the White House. And the torture exhibit the San Diego Museum of Man helps to educate about the use of cruelty as a political weapon. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh KPBS Midday Edition is next, first the news. Lessons for the candidates from a man who's been inside the war room. UC San Diego professor Samuel Popkin. And the Labor Day memory about San Diego's big moment in the labor movement the free speechwriter of 1912. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, Labor Day September 3. Here are some of the San Diego stories we're following in a KPBS newsroom. The only licensed medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego County will close today as a result of the crackdown by US Atty. Laura Duffy. The mother cooperative has 70,000 members. Starting Tuesday San Diego unified school district will have a special location for students seeking school records. In the two weeks since Pres. Obama's deferred action policy for undocumented immigrants took affect the district has been flooded with requests for documentation. Starting tomorrow students who want proof they attended the San Diego school should go to the Ballard Center and that is in old town. Listen for the latest news throughout the day here on KPBS. Our top story on Midday Edition is the beginning of the final stretch of campaign 2012. Last week some background we accept the Republican presidential nomination in Tampa and tomorrow the Democratic national convention begins to promote breast sent Barack Obama's reelection. If the polls are correct this presidential race is still very close and according to the analysis in a new book but I guessed Samuel Popkin, winning may depend on the kind of team the candidate has assembled and whether he understands what kind of campaign he should be running. Samuel Popkin served as a consultant to the Carter, McGovern, Clinton and Gore campaigns. He's a professor of political science at UC San Diego the name of his book is the candidate what it takes to win and hold the White House. And Prof. Popkin, welcome back to the show.

SAMUEL POPKIN: It is a pleasure to be with you, Maureen.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Some people want to put an, even though the campaigns you worked on were for Democrats the book is nonpartisan. In fact it has been praised by none other than Karl Rove. He's got a blurb on the back of it. Is there camaraderie among political consultants despite partisan differences?

SAMUEL POPKIN: The marriage between James Carville and Mary Matalin is, nobody seems to believe it in either party but there is a lot of camaraderie. Not necessarily a bad level. When the wars are over, people who were there have a lot in common. The Way, Vietnam vets returned to Vietnam and are surprised how much they have in common with the Vietnamese soldiers they once considered their mortal and music.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It is you are, in a sense, in the trenches together.

SAMUEL POPKIN: Exactly and in this case I worked extremely hard to make this a book for people who wanted to understand the campaigns. And one of the big Romney backers when the campaign was foundering bought everybody in the campaign a copy of the book.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the things you say in the book is that candidates don't study losing campaigns as much as they should. What can you learn from a failed candidacy?

SAMUEL POPKIN: First of all the after records of the campaign are more revealing because people let out all the troubles they had as a result to papering it over as one big happy family. And when somebody wins you look back and tend to think of it as inevitable. Obviously, that 911 attack was going to happen. Obviously there was going to be a Pearl Harbor. And when you don't look at the thing that you now think is obvious you are more open to rethinking what actually happened and to think how many ways it could have turned out better than it did, or different than I did.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even when you're talking about the field candidacies information that comes out afterwards I was thinking about all the books that developed after the McCain Palin effort and all the tell-all books that were released after that campaign that's what you are talking about, right?

SAMUEL POPKIN: Right that's a classic example of a candidate who didn't understand the management job and the delegation needed to be a good candidate. I'm not a fan of Gov. Palin. But, a lot of the bad press and the disdain and the anger thrown at her by Republicans and Democrats was due to the fact that she was given approximately 48 hours to make the transition from Alaska to the toughest stage in the world. If they had gone to her and asked for our records 60 or 90 days in advance, she might be regarded much better today than she is.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now in your book the candidate, what campaigns to focus on?

SAMUEL POPKIN: I looked at all the campaigns since 48. But the ones I focus on the most in length were the Clinton Obama primary, and the Bush Clinton 92 main campaign and the 2000 Gore versus Gov. George W. Bush campaign. On the Challenger and how you become a challenger. One an incumbent and how you to send the White House and how it is different from being a challenger and one about the toughest campaign in the world being a successor. My favorite campaigns to study were actually, was actually the Truman Dewey campaign because Thomas to returns out to be one of the most impressive people never took it to the White House that I've seen in a campaign.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And this of course, 1948 and we remember it because of those headlines, Dewey wins, when of course Harry S Truman won that election. What did you take away from that?

SAMUEL POPKIN: Well Dewey was, after the campaign Dewey was pictured, they called him the man on the wedding cake because he had the same little mustache that was common in those days at the little figures that you would stick, wedding cake and he was ridiculed for being stiff and nothing to say. The truth is, he was flexible. He was a brilliant speaker. He had a lot to say but he couldn't talk during the campaign because he had been savaged and decimated and all of his weapons taken away by ultraconservative members of the Senate led by Senate Robert Taft who doublecrossed him in the campaign and refused to back the party platform that he and all the other governors sent through.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So from that you see where someone can be undermined by their actual, their party, the party that is supposed to support them.

SAMUEL POPKIN: Yes, one of the things we don't understand enough is that a lot of senators and congressmen are just as protective of their personal brand as they are of the parties brand. And for example if doing with his internationalism and moderate approach to the new deal, something governors needed to govern had one, then people like Sen. Taft would have been considered yesterday's news out of touch, out of date and no longer the pillars of the party. And they were not ready to be put out to pasture or sent to the glue factory. And I think that's part of why Gov. Romney has looked less good this year then he would have expected to look, or that most of the sophisticated observers thought. He's been stripped of a lot of policies by a vicious primary process that forced him into positions he never wanted.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Samuel Popkin, professor of political science at UC San Diego about his new book called the candidate.what it takes to win and hold the White House. One of the things in this book that is really very incisive I believe is that you outlined three types of campaigns that presidential campaigns can run and you just ran through them a little bit. There's the Challenger, the incumbent and the successor. But you also say some candidates forget what kind of campaign they should be running. Can you give us an example of that?

SAMUEL POPKIN: Hillary Clinton in 2008 started the primary acting like she was the incumbent leader of the party, not somebody asking people to make her their leader. That is a major mistake. And you will see every time somebody is in the White House the supporters down to the reporters and even a candidate and the families saying can we do again what we did on the way here? Jimmy Carter tried to re-create the magic of 76. Every day you hear people say can Obama rekindle the magic of 2008? Well, nobody gets to rekindle the magic of the first date or the wedding night. Once you are there you are there and it is now about the hard work ahead and not the magical hopes of what you would do.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because you have to run a different sort of campaign as an incumbent that you did as a challenger?

SAMUEL POPKIN: Yes and I'm glad you brought that up. When you are an incumbent, anything you do, any policy you do takes a lot longer. Think of it as steering an oil tanker or a battleship. He move very slowly, but you can't make big, big waves. You can veto a bill, you can visit China as Nixon did. You can stop or or start a war. But they take lots of time. If you are a challenger if you are doing well you can adapt and move very quickly but you are like a speed boat. You can move fast but you make very small waves. Look at the two Obama troops to Afghanistan. Candidate Obama shot three-point baskets and signed autographs. President Obama hailed the shooting of Osama bin Laden and signed a treaty.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Two very different kinds of visits.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Could you give us your assessment of the messages that we just saw at the GOP convention. Do they fit the type of campaign message Romney needs to get across?

SAMUEL POPKIN: They fit the campaign he has to swallow and work and live with. The party is very nervous about the split between the more traditional conservatives and the tea party. I think it is little appreciated but very powerful signal of problems when the spring, when former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida talked about alienation from the party on the immigration policy. And took a direct swipe at the biggest ultraconservatives money raisers and funders when he said I will not outsource my principles to somebody other than the voters. Or I don't you know, bargain off my principles and that was an attack, a direct, obvious attack on the zero tax increase ultraconservatives. And that was followed by other politicians saying similar things. And at the convention Gov. Christie of New Jersey walked very gingerly around the ticket without specifics. I thought the only specifics that I heard from vice presidential candidate Ryan over Gov. Christie were the tax on the teacher's union. Nothing about, there was thing is real men are real this week took the tennis issues we are not big fuzzy promises like Obama we are going to do the hard work. There were no specifics of what the hard work is, how the vouchers for Medicare would work and Congressman Ryan's budget had never had the numbers filled in. And that's what made everybody nervous and they are still nervous.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: what about embarrassing moments like Clint Eastwood's empty chair speech. Does that have any kind of a lasting impact?

SAMUEL POPKIN: The lasting impact of Clint Eastwood's chair moment is that the story you want filling the papers and the Jets and the talk radio is less heard because of this. I think a more serious one was, and I will explain why, even though it is absolutely just as trivial, was Congressman Ryan's blatant fudging of his best marathon time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, which we found out over the weekend

SAMUEL POPKIN: Now, how fast you run a marathon has nothing to do with how good a president you are. Ronald Reagan never ran a marathon, Bill Clinton never ran a marathon. Franklin D Roosevelt never ran a marathon. But, somehow this, you don't think you don't say you are under three hours if you never broke four hours, and when you do that and it comes out it makes it clear that you haven't been as frank as you think you want people to think about the really critical things like the budget.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right, now in closing, Sam, what does the Democratic convention and specifically president Obama, what does he need to convey to the American people during this Democratic national convention?

SAMUEL POPKIN: He needs to convincingly sell people on the idea that the last four years our preparation for four barriers. Whether it is that he has walked America back from the precipice of 2008 or whether that the healthcare in place, and the breaking up of Al Qaeda has gotten a rocket through the first stage, and it's going to start going faster through the atmosphere. Or whether the tea party will now crack and the reasonable Republicans will be able to deal. Whatever the line is going to be, he needs a line that makes people feel he is on a path. Classic incumbent line is don't change forces in the middle of the stream. He has to convince people he's in the middle of the stream, not just floundering on the shore and going back and forth.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I said that was my last question but I want to make this my last and we don't have a lot of time. Can you encapsulate what you think the polls are showing such a tight race between Obama and Romney. Is it the economy?

SAMUEL POPKIN: It is partly the economy and partly the very strong worry about redistribution at a time of a pipe that is not growing for 90% of the country.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: that is redistribution of wealth you are talking about, right?

SAMUEL POPKIN: People are really worried if the insurance company is growing broke, you don't want to get, you do not want to put more money into your premiums. You do not want to invest in a government program. The money may be going to people who didn't quote deserves that returns that you deserve.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see well I've got to end it there. This is fascinating I've been speaking with Samuel Popkin. He is professor of political science at UC San Diego. The book is called the candidate. What it takes to win and hold the White House.

SAMUEL POPKIN: Pleasure listening to such good questions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much it was a pleasure speaking with you, thanks.