Q& A with Chuck Todd, Chief White House correspondent and political director, NBC News

One day far from now Chuck Todd might go on an RV tour through swing states in the South so he can balance his two loves, ACC football and politics, he said in an interview with The Hill. Until then, he’ll continue to wake up around 4 a.m. every day to carry out his multiple duties as NBC’s go-to man for political news.

Q: Are you ready for 2012?

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I think I was ready January 20th, 2009. In my previous job, the presidential race was very important every day in the four-year period in between.

Q: What are you doing to prepare for this election cycle?

I think what’s different about this one is there’s actually some different rules, so [I’ve been] getting up to speed for the unexpected — like a delegate fight on the Republican side. What’s funny is how many people are unaware of these rules. That’s what I’ve been hunkered down with more than anything.

Q: During the last presidential election, you had been at NBC for just a year. Four years later, what will be different for you this time around?

I’d never been on the television-production side before. The reporting’s the same. Learning how to distribute what you know in a television format was something that I had not much experience doing, and I feel like I have a better understanding of that now. 

Four years ago I was drinking out of a fire hose. Two contested primaries with two nomination battles. Only having to worry about one primary feels kind of quaint, and it’s a more manageable pace as far as lifestyle is concerned.

Q: What time of day do you get up?

In the 4’s. I set my alarm for 5, 5:15 a.m., but my body clock inevitably wakes me up between 4:30 and 5. 

Q: And what time do you go to bed?

I’m usually asleep before 10 p.m. It’s the only way to survive and have a semi-healthy lifestyle. Not to say it’s a healthy lifestyle.

Q: I’m just trying to figure out how you balance all your duties: Daily Rundown, White House correspondent, political director, contributing editor for “Meet the Press,” husband, father, etc.

Really limit, if not eliminate, the alcohol intake during the week, and get to bed before 10, and that allows us to do all we want to.

I do my best to integrate everything. I know that what we want to lead in [MSNBC’s] “First Read,” I want “Daily Rundown” to reflect that.

Now that we’re in day-to-day coverage of the campaign, I can tell you as I’m going throughout the show, I’m already writing the spot for “Nightly News,” which then in turn tells me what I want to have for “Today.”

It feels like a lot, but I try to integrate it in my own mind a little bit … I was sort of skeptical of this idea of being both political director and White House correspondent, and I remember having that conversation with the bosses, and they said it’s probably more integrated than you think. And it is. 

Q: How long can you keep this up before completely burning out?

I go back to my days at [National Journal’s] Hotline a little bit, because I was up at 1:30 in the morning for that job. Worked crazy hours there, and I did that for 15 years.

I don’t know what the long-term effect of this is, but … for better or worse, I’ve wired my body and brain this way, so I can’t imagine burning out.

Q: What’s been the hardest part of the White House beat?

Every day, particularly that first year, you’re taking a graduate-level course on some topic that you have to have a 3-inch-deep level of knowledge on, give that information, be able to do that with relevance and realize that everything you do is gone the next day. Or immersing yourself in something that will never get on the air.

It’s less about informing the viewer and [more about] informing the viewer of what they should be learning or what they should go read more about.

Q: Are you going to pay attention to the congressional elections, too? 

Absolutely. I call covering House races the cops beat of American politics. I covered House races [as] my first beat at Hotline in 1992.

Today’s [House] member or senator is the following decade’s presidential candidate. But it also helps you learn demographics of the country … and once you start, you get hooked.

Q: What story lines do you see emerging there?

The battle for the Senate and the battle for the White House are totally intertwined. There’s quite a few of the Senate battlegrounds that are the same as White House battlegrounds.

I think the unknown here is, we haven’t had this kind of venom toward Congress — this is the worst yet. Throw in redistricting, throw in the changing demographics — it’s going to be confusing.

I think the old axiom, that “I hate Congress but I like my member” — that conventional wisdom is going to get challenged like never before.

There’s a lot of chatter for a third-party presidential candidacy — I’m surprised there’s not more of that on the congressional level. You can hear that anger from Democrats and Republicans equally, [so] I’m surprised that people are not trying to take advantage of that and run on the message of fixing the broken branch of government. And I think there’s a strong argument to be made that the legislative branch of government is broken.

The problem of Congress is structural at this point, so now the system’s got to get changed, whether it’s seniority, committee structure — there’s structural change needed so that people can feel like they even have an impact on Congress.

Q: What’s been your worst on-air blooper?

I guess the most memorable, because it got way too much attention, was sneezing the incorrect way in front of [Health and Human Services] Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius — it made it on every broadcast.

Q: If you had to pick a reporter from another network to hire, who would it be?

In the White House press room, we became very friendly. I’ve known [ABC’s] Jake [Tapper] for 15 years already. I feel like we’ve really become friends.

I really enjoyed competing with [the National Journal’s] Major Garrett, and I’m really glad to see him in print and not in the White House press room. Major Garrett is someone I think is an outstanding reporter. He’d definitely be a first-round draft pack.

Q: I can’t fathom that you have any time for hobbies, but in a fictional world where you would, what would those be? I hear you’re musical. 

I’m an avid University of Miami Hurricanes fan. I hope to come to the day where I can still do some stuff for NBC and somehow integrate it with an RV tour of the South for college football. Luckily, my wife, she’s a Florida State alum, so I wouldn’t have to talk her into it. I think our kids would think we’re weird.

I played French horn, and I certainly do miss it. I miss it. I wish I had the time to keep up with it. It’s like exercising: You have to keep it up, especially the muscles in your lips to deal with the French horn.