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With California Campaign, Political Pundit Decides To Try It Himself


You'll hear this all the time in news stories about politics. At a certain point a political analyst or pundit is quoted offering insight. Maybe they're university professors with expertise on an issue or on candidates in their region of the country. So what happens when one of those go-to experts removes their pundit hat and becomes a candidate? NPR's Don Gonyea has one such story and he gets some well-known pundits to comment.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: For Californians who are interested in politics, there's a good bet Dan Schnur is a person they've heard of. For better than a decade he's headed the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. He's been a political analyst and commentator for CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. Now he's running for California Secretary of State - his top campaign goal addressing what he calls the easy flow of money to candidates' coffers. In his web video Schnurr stands outside the capitol building in Sacramento.

DAN SCHNUR: So what happens every day that the legislature's in session is there's a relay race every breakfast, lunch and dinner, where the legislators of both parties rush off the floor of the state capitol and rush into downtown Sacramento to raise money for their next campaigns.

GONYEA: Schnur then demonstrates how long that walk takes. The film speeds up. Goofy music plays. We see the candidate moving in hyper-fast motion from the capitol heading across the street to a private building.

SCHNUR: One minute 14 seconds from the place where they make the laws to the place where they raise the money.

GONYEA: Schnur is running as an Independent even though in his life before academia and punditry he served as an advisor to Republican candidates. Describing himself as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, he says he's not welcome in either party these days. As for the decision to actually become a candidate himself...

SCHNUR: It is a much different role than the one I played for many years.

GONYEA: ...Any pundit will tell you it's a big uphill climb to win as an Independent. But Schnur sees an opening in new California election rules. Tuesday's primary is wide open because Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all appear together on the same ballot. The top two then meet in the general election. Schnur's hope is that the Democratic and Republican votes are so split up among different candidates that he can get into the run-off. Schnur's campaign is being taken seriously. He has gotten some big newspaper endorsements from the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee. We asked some often quoted pundits to weigh in on Schnur's run. Susan McManus is a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

SUSAN MCMANUS: You know, Secretary of State's position is always different. People expect expertise there as opposed to politics.

GONYEA: McManus says she's been asked a lot over the years if she'd ever run for office. The closest she's come is to quote "think about it." But says she likes teaching too much. Larry Sabato is one of the very best known pundits on national politics. The director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics - he is blunt when asked about Dan Schnur's candidacy.

LARRY SABATO: Well, it's a free country. He could do it if he wants. I certainly wouldn't do it.

GONYEA: Sabato adds...

SABATO: That's not a role that most analysts would want. You know, it's great having a ringside seat year after year and watching the campaigns and the candidates. You know, it's fun. I don't know that being a candidate's much fun anymore.

GONYEA: Dan Schnur meanwhile says he's been talking for so many years about the things he's now promoting as a candidate that the role is comfortable for him. But there is one thing he says he still wrestles with. He has to keep reminding himself not to talk about the candidate in the third person. Don Gonyea, NPR News.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.