Wednesday, December 2, 2054

Chapter Twenty-Six

The two-week exploratory period went by in fits and starts for Paul. Darrell reported in on the second morning. Addie immediately tried to get him to ally with her and get Paul to see reason on how the campaign should be run. She agreed that they should make an effort to be different, but not that different. Darrell surprised everyone by siding with Paul.

"Him being him is what got all of us here in the first place. I just don't see any advantage to messing with that."

In some ways, they accomplished very little that day. In other ways, that second day defined the entire campaign. Addie pushed her view throughout the morning and the discussion got tense at times. Nicki walked in after one particularly lively exchange to let them know they were starting to make the staff edgy.

They took a break and adjourned to the kitchenette, where they picked up on the argument again almost immediately. With witnesses in tow, they were returning to Paul's office when a small skinny kid in the bullpen stopped them. "Excuse me", he said, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I couldn't help overhearing you guys. You're obviously talking about one of you running for something, right?"

"Yes", Paul said, "me".

He gestured toward Addie and said, "Well, not that anybody asked me, but you're absolutely 100% wrong. If you run your campaign the way these guys are talking about, people will pay attention. If you're doing something really different, no-one's going to want to miss anything. They'll turn on the news every night just to find out what that guy did today."

Addie looked at him. "Who are you?" she asked.

"Oh, sorry", he said, "Jesse Stewart. I'm just getting your wireless system installed. You guys have been a little loud, ya know? Sorry to have stuck my nose in."

Paul stuck his hand out and said, "I'm Paul Harkness. I'm running for President. How'd you like to work here?"

"Doing what", he asked.

"Personal assistant to Addie Rotholz", Paul replied, pointing at her. "Item #1 on your job description will be to never let her browbeat you."

Addie looked shocked, but quickly turned it into a grin. Turning to Paul, she said, "O.K., you win. I know I'm going to regret it, but we'll try it your way. Hell, I was unemployed last week, I can survive it again." Then she turned to Jesse and reached out to shake his hand. "I'm Addie Rotholz, do you want the job?"

"Sure, sounds cool."

The conversation picked up again, but remained in the bullpen with everyone participating. With everyone more or less on the same page, it turned into a rollicking, freewheeling session. No idea on how to create the "anti-campaign" was rejected out of hand. Nicki took notes, with the idea that they'd go through the list later and develop their plans from that.

Now that Addie was fully onboard, she produced some of the most outrageous suggestions. Paul making his entrance to an event via parachute with the Flying Elvi. (Paul said That wasn't going to happen but Nicki put it on the list anyway.) How about a new reality show; "Meet the Next President?" with cameras following Paul 24/7 and then we buy an hour each week in prime time to run it?

Most of the ideas they came up with wouldn't survive the first culling, but the fact that they'd started actively designing an "anti-campaign", and that they'd actively involved everyone on the staff, would become a hallmark of the campaign.

Nothing specific was decided that day, but the attitude of the campaign was firmly established in everyone's mind. The one concrete achievement of the day was that they chose a campaign slogan: You want different?, Try Harkness!

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

On Thursday afternoon of the same week, Tom Douglas walked into the Oval Office. "You wanted to see me Mac?"

The President said, "I found myself with a free moment. Bring me up to date on Harkness."

"Oh, sorry," Douglas replied, "I've dropped that. He's obviously testing the waters for a political run. It can't be local, or state office, otherwise he'd be set up in Falls Church. That leaves the House Seat for the Virginia 8th congressional district. Frankly, I don't think there's a man or woman alive who could unseat the incumbent, so there's nothing to concern ourselves about. I did send a kid in looking for a job, but they said they were fully staffed and maybe he could try back in a couple of weeks. Otherwise, he wasn't able to find out anything."

The President said, "How sure of this are you".

"Not very, but I'm not worried. It's the only thing that even comes close to making sense, though. Whatever it is, I'm sure we'll find out soon enough. Then, if it needs to be dealt with, I'll deal with it. Don't I always?"

"O.K., we'll leave it at that", the President said, "but let me know if anything changes."

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

On the evening before Paul's announcement, He had Addie, Darrell, Rachel and Senator Bolling over for dinner. They were having a last informal strategy session before bringing the world in on their plans. They were all pleased with the way the exploratory period had gone.

They were all happy with the campaign strategy they'd come up with. The professionals still had some heebie-jeebies, but they were committed. Paul had worked through his policy issues and produced a 200-page "platform". Working with Artie and Warren, he'd also produced a 15 page alternate version.

Paul and Senator Bolling were in disagreement over some of the issues, but Bolling was willing to live with that. The platform, when distributed, was going to piss off as many Democrats as Republicans. If they were out to flaunt their independence, this would be a fine start.

The one thing Bolling took serious issue with was Paul's refusal to show anyone the speech he planned to make the following morning. He'd spent long hours with his office door closed, working on it. The only copy was on his laptop and he'd guarded that carefully the entire time, never leaving it behind when he went home, always locking it in a drawer when he left the room.

Addie and Darrell, having worked more closely with him, were getting a much better idea of which arguments were worth having with Paul. There were some things you could change his mind about, some things where compromise was possible, and some things where you might as well bang your head bloody, for all the good it was going to do. That didn't mean Addie hadn't tried. She had. But she'd given up quickly when she'd seen that this was something Paul wasn't going to bend on.

Bolling hadn't gotten to know Paul that well yet. "Paul", he said, "Be reasonable. Your backers have a right to know how you plan to make this announcement."

Paul took a sip of his beer and said, "No disrespect, Reese, but its not going to happen. If you read it, you're going to want to change it...and I'm not changing a word."

Bolling tried another tack. "They've spent a lot of money on this campaign so far. You've got to let them in."

Paul made an impatient gesture, "Maybe when you get around to telling me who they are. And don't whine to me about how much they've spent. There was never any guarantee we'd go forward with this. That money was a write-off the minute they ponied up and they knew it."

Addie tried, once more, to find a middle ground, "Will you at least give us an idea of what you're going to say?"

Paul said, "Listen guys, I know you think this is important, and I completely agree. That's why I'm not going to let anyone see it in advance. This speech is the last chance I get to tell the country who I am without having to compete with what everyone else says about me. I get to say it my way and I get to set a tone that every speechwriter you hire is going to have to duplicate. I'm going to speak my own words in my own voice and they'll just have to imitate that with everything they write from here on out. There're two other things this speech is going to do. First, It's going to force us to run the type of campaign we've been designing these last two weeks. There won't be any turning back. Second, the reaction this speech gets is going to immediately tell us whether or not I've got any chance of being elected. I can guarantee you that."

Bolling responded sarcastically, "Well, that certainly puts my mind at ease."

Paul said, "C'mon guys. If you're trying to get the country to trust me with the keys to the White House, you should at least pretend you trust me to make the announcement that I'm running."

Everyone at the table made a show of looking at each other to see if anyone else would take a stab at making Paul see reason. Rachel shrugged and said, "Don't look at me. None of this was my idea".


Anonymous said...

wow, i love this story! i've been waiting a few days at a time to come back so i can read a few chapters at a time. great work!

Nathan said...

I'm glad you're enjoying it and thanks for coming out of lurk-mode to let me know.