Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Candidate Meeting That I’ll Never Forget — Even if I’d Like to

By Stuart Rothenberg

When I interview candidates, the meetings normally last 45 minutes to an hour. That’s the only thing they have in common. Each meeting is different because each candidate is unique.

But rarely do I have a meeting like the one that I had recently with Peter Schiff, the well-known investment guru who takes credit for predicting the bankruptcies of the auto companies, the problems of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the housing bubble and the recession (which he says actually is a depression — and will get worse). If you are looking for modesty or humility, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Schiff, whose father, Irwin, is a noted tax protester who currently resides in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., says he is considering a run for the Republican Senate nomination in Connecticut, though he seemed blasé about a race and may merely be looking for attention. If he is seriously pondering the race, he ought to stop doing so immediately.

Schiff is the first candidate I’ve ever interviewed who proudly says he can’t recall the last time he voted. “I’ve never seen a real reason to vote,” he says without hesitation, adding that he registered to vote only recently in Connecticut. Apparently, he’s never heard of the concept of civic duty or considered the meaning of 200 years of American history.

Not surprisingly, he is also the first candidate I’ve ever interviewed who brags that he can raise most of his money out of state and can win by bringing supporters from around the country into Connecticut to campaign for him. (That certainly worked for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in the Iowa Democratic caucuses, didn’t it?)

Finally, Schiff is the only major party hopeful I’ve ever interviewed who said there is no difference — absolutely no difference — between Republicans and Democrats, between President Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Schiff obviously isn’t a politician, but he isn’t a complete political neophyte either. He served as an economic adviser to presidential hopeful Ron Paul (R) during the Texas Congressman’s 2008 campaign, and he endorsed Libertarian-turned-Republican Murray Sabrin’s bid for the New Jersey GOP Senate nomination in 2008.

Sabrin, I should add, came in to see me during that race and made much the same case as Schiff. He drew 14 percent of the vote in a three-way primary.

Schiff is a darling of libertarians, and they have taken to the Web to raise money for him and to tell him how much they want him to run for the Senate. Maybe they can do for him what they did for Paul.

Schiff thinks that he might be able to win in Connecticut because, unlike Paul, he has to win in “only” one state, while Paul had to win in the entire country. Maybe someone should tell him that Paul didn’t come close to winning either the Iowa straw poll or the Iowa caucuses, two low-turnout events that were made to order for the Texan given the enthusiasm of his supporters.

A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of “Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic Collapse,” Schiff is president and chief global strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, a Darien, Conn.-based investment firm that its Web site says specializes in international securities.

He’s well-dressed and articulate. He’s also adept at talking about the nation’s economic programs, and he has logged a good deal of time on cable’s business programming. But being an entertaining guest on CNBC doesn’t automatically translate to being a serious candidate for the U.S. Senate.

If and when Schiff focuses on what he’d do to get the American economy out of the ditch, he’ll scare the living daylights out of state voters, who are more concerned with their jobs and government services than with Austrian economics. Simply put, a majority of Connecticut Republicans are not ready for the second coming of Ron Paul.

Schiff seems to think that voters are heavily ideological. During my interview with him, he said he’ll attract support from across the country because, if elected, he would represent them and their views.

I don’t know whether Schiff, who lives in Fairfield County, has ever been to Willimantic, Torrington, Coventry or Naugatuck, but someone needs to mention to him that telling Nutmeg State voters that he would “represent” people in other states isn’t necessarily the best way to get elected in Connecticut. Nor is it wise to tell Republican primary voters, even in Connecticut, that there is no difference between the two parties.

Schiff may or may not be right about what ails America. That’s not the issue. But I saw no evidence that he understands how to talk to voters who have the kinds of problems that average Americans in Connecticut face each and every day, no evidence that he’d be effective in the Senate and no evidence that he has even the vaguest idea how to put together a campaign.

For a man who supposedly makes decisions on the basis of data and analysis, Schiff seemed to lack any empirical evidence that he could win a Senate race, let alone a primary. Maybe that’s because he’d really rather appear on the Daily Show or spout off in national publications than do what is necessary to win a Senate seat.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on June 15, 2009. 2009 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved.