Saturday, November 28, 2054

Chapter Thirty

The announcement got all the attention they could have wished for; just not quite how they'd planned. WHSE had broken in and covered the speech live. The network had picked up the feed within minutes. Other networks quickly arranged to share the feed for a price.

So, the first people to see the speech on T.V., were introduced to the notion of a Harkness campaign, thusly. WHSE interrupted the network morning show shortly after 8:00 a.m. An announcer popped up on Washington D.C. screens and said, "We're breaking into our normal network programming to bring you a breaking story. Paul Harkness, in a speech to the Eastern Virginia Businessman's Association, has just announced that he's a candidate for President of the United States. We take you now, to the speech, in progress".

They picture cut to a head and shoulders shot of Paul. The first thing the D.C. audience heard from him was, "...didn't really like pot all that much, but it took the edge off my buzz whenever we could afford some coke."

The audience who were present where Paul was speaking, at least had some context for this bon mot. The home viewers were almost unanimously struck with variations on the thought, "What the fuck?" By the time Paul finished speaking, he was being carried live on most every broadcast station in America. Further, every cable station not dedicated to cartoons or home makeovers had picked up the feed. Having missed the beginning of Paul's speech by varying degrees, most of America had no idea what to make of his announcement.

In the meantime, Morty Hanson had transmitted the entire tape back to WHSE and the news director was now going through an entirely new set of negotiations to provide coverage of the complete speech to the nation's broadcasters. Actually, negotiation wasn't a strictly accurate description. He'd name a price and anyone who wanted to haggle quickly found themselves talking to a dial tone.

So, shortly after the end of the live coverage, practically every television in America and Canada that was turned on was playing a repeat of the speech from the beginning. Reaction to the complete speech, in its proper context was considerably more positive than it had been to the live feed.

Gallup, Harris and Quinnipiac immediately began calling households, polling for reactions.

Back at the breakfast meeting, Paul was shaking hands and speaking to all comers. Judging by the reaction in the room, Paul was off to a strong start. A very few people had left the breakfast immediately, apparently grossly offended by Paul's announcement. The majority remained, milling about and speaking to each other, mostly unsure what to make of the whole thing; and a respectable minority were visibly enthusiastic about what they'd just heard and vied for Paul's attention.

After ten or fifteen minutes of greeting his new supporters, Darrell and Addie guided him out of the room. Other reporters and cameras had arrived by now and were jostling for position. Paul waved to them while interns from the campaign handed out copies of his policy statements.

To universal disappointment, Addie announced to the press that there would be no further statements today. They quickly got into the car and sped off to campaign headquarters.

Addie and Darrell were laughing as soon as they had turned the first corner. Darrell said, "Wow! You weren't kidding when you said you were going to set a tone for the campaign. I'm just not sure admitting felonies is the best way to announce a candidacy. Don't get me wrong, Paul; that's a speech people will be talking about for decades. You've just permanently changed the playing field. I'm just not sure we're going to like the reaction"

Addie said, "Well, you were certainly right about us knowing right away whether or not this campaign has wings. Our pollster should have some detailed results by shortly after noon." Paul exploded.

"Addie, we've just spent two weeks inventing a new kind of campaign. Hiring pollsters is not the way we want to operate".

"Get real Paul, don't be ridiculous," she said. "I don't care how different you want to be, you still need to see how the public is reacting."

Paul said, "Give me your blackberry."

She handed it over and Paul fiddled with it for a minute or so. He looked up and smiled. " shows 6% highly favorable to the announcement, 8% mildly favorable, 62% neutral/undecided, 21% highly unfavorable and 3% with no opinion. That's how the public is reacting. Do you need more than that?"

"Yes, of course we do," she said. "We need reaction to each individual part of the speech. Our pollsters were in contact with 1000 people while they were watching the speech. They'll let us know exactly which sentences struck a chord, which sentences pissed people off, and finally reaction to the speech as a whole."

Paul was quiet for a moment. Then he said, "Pay them for the poll, but no-one, and that includes you and me, is to see the results. Have them destroy it. Then, thank them for their work and let them know we won't have any further need for their services."

Darrell said, "Paul, I'm with Addie on this one. You just can't run a campaign without knowing how your message is being received."

Paul replied, "Enough polls will be taken without us having to run them. They're more than enough. What do you intend to do with the poll you commissioned? If we find out that 80% of likely voters don't like the fact that I smoked pot, should I issue a statement saying I was only kidding? "

"It's more complicated than that", Addie replied. "I know there'll be a mostly negative reaction to the first half of your speech. It's a question of how negative the reaction is. And whether or not the second half was positive enough to counterbalance it."

Paul was quiet for a moment. Looking from Darrell to Addie and back again, he said, "Listen to me carefully. The only use of a poll like the one you're talking about would be for me to adjust what I'm saying or how I'm saying it. I'm not going to do that. I know that this campaign was your idea and I'm thankful to you for that. But you need to know that, as of now, the object of this campaign is not to get me elected no matter what. The object is to get me elected because what I say makes sense to people. If I get elected, I'm not going to set policy to get better poll numbers, so I'm not going to try to get elected by playing to polls."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mackinzie Harper hit the mute button on the T.V. remote and turned to Tom Douglas. "You sure called that one right," he said.

Douglas said, "You're not honestly worried about this guy, are you?"

"I wouldn't say exactly worried, but the son-of-a-bitch sure as hell surprises me every time he pops up. Schedule a sit-down with Elgin this afternoon. Have him work up an assessment by then."

"I'll set it up, Mac," said Douglas, "but don't let this get you worked up. He's a gnat on an elephant's ass. He can bite all he wants and we'll never feel a thing."

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