By Jonathan HellerBob Schuman, a La Jolla-based political consultant who has made a long and successful career out of being the man behind the candidate, has found himself squarely in the media spotlight recently.
Schuman, who lives and works in La Jolla, has made headlines by launching Americans for Rick Perry, a national, independent grassroots campaign to draft the Texas governor into the presidential race. He was successful — Perry announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination over the weekend.
As national campaign director, Schuman has granted several media interviews in recent weeks. This is something of a departure for a man who is typically hired directly by candidates as a paid consultant and lets the candidate do the talking.
“I’ve never been one of those consultants who sought the limelight or thought I was more important than my candidate,” he said in a recent interview.
But Americans for Rick Perry is a so-called “527 organization,” an IRS-sanctioned tax-exempt entity that seeks to influence the nomination or defeat of candidates to public office. One requirement under the IRS code is that the group cannot have direct contact or coordination with the candidate.
That’s why Schuman is the man in front of the microphone these days.
Actually, Schuman has never met Perry, a fact that he says has no bearing on his unwavering support. Schuman said he’s impressed by Perry’s conservative ideology and focus on jobs and the economy. He also mentioned that Perry captured 39 percent of the Latino vote in his last election, which suggests he has the potential to broaden the GOP’s base.
Lucas O’Connor, a local Progressive political consultant, voiced concern about the trend of people forming 527 groups to support candidates they don’t personally know.
“A political consultant has successfully drafted a possible president from 1,000 miles away without meeting him?” O’Connor said. “That’s the strongest evidence yet that we’re electing resumes with soundbites. What does grassroots even mean in the digital age?”
Schuman, 56, has amassed a substantial resume in his more than 30 years in politics.
A relative unknown whose first job out of college was working for the Iowa State Republican Party in 1978, Schuman gained a spot on the platform committee at the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas through hard work and “being aggressive.” Since then he’s worked for Republican presidential candidates Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm, and numerous Congressional and Senate candidates.
Closer to home, he helped propel former U.S. Senator and California Governor Pete Wilson, former San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear and San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith into office, among others.
John Nienstedt, President of Competitive Edge Research, is a local pollster who has worked often with Schuman over the years.
“He’s an experienced political hand who is strategic in his thinking,” Nienstedt said. “He’s also a snappy dresser with a good sense of humor.”
Schuman was credited with reinvigorating the San Diego County Republican Party when he became chairman in 1985 at age 29. A San Diego Evening Tribune article of that year said Schuman boosted the local GOP’s fundraising muscle by installing a phone bank that was also used for get-out-the-vote efforts. Focusing on voter registration, Schuman was also able to briefly displace Democrats as the city’s majority party in 1986.
Schuman toyed with running for San Diego City Council in 1987 but ultimately opted out, preferring to remain behind the scenes.