UC San Diego political scientist Samuel L. Popkin is the author of The Candidate: What it Takes to Win—and Hold—the White House, for which he studied not the winners but the losing candidates. Before participating in a conversation about the costs of a U.S. presidential election, he told us in the Zócalo green room that the strangest job he’s ever had was dressing up as Mr. Peanut to give out samples—eclipsing his work as a campaign consultant to the likes of Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.
Have you ever broken any bones?
Yes. I walked in front of a car jaywalking: collarbone, tibia, and fibula. Fifty-four weeks in a cast. Not fun. We had a cast party when I got it off.
What’s the worst thing about Jimmy Carter?
His belief that his goodness will overcome all of his institutional failures.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
Dressing up as Mr. Peanut in high school to give out samples at the Red Owl supermarket.
How do you like your eggs?
Either slow cooked at 165 degrees or in omelets—moist omelets. The best is duck eggs. Duck egg on my pizza. You make a pizza with roast vegetables, and if you have a hot oven you put a duck egg on top for two minutes, it gets fried. It’s really good.
You study political losers; what can they teach the Cubs?
I’m from a city that was so poor we were a Cubs farm team, and the thing you can teach the Cubs is to get used to losing, and to understand that no matter how many times it happens you never get over it.
What did you hate eating as a child?
What book have you read the most times?
George Orwell—most Orwell. When I reread it’s Orwell.
If you ran for office, what would your slogan be?
Neatness isn’t everything. That actually was Barney Frank’s first slogan. It’s always been one of my favorite; it’s the only one I could think of.
What could Dewey have done differently to win in ’48?
Made a public break with Taft.
If you had to give up one of your senses, which would you choose?
Smell. Because it’s my weakest sense. I have a super-taster tongue and a very bad sense of smell, so it’d be the one that’s least valuable to me. Or my sense of direction, which is almost nonexistent.