The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 7

Senator Chris Evans

I left the office with Patrick’s words swimming in my head: “The DNC would like for you to consider running for President.”  It had come completely out of left field.  I’d never expressed any interest in running for President.  It was hard enough for me to be on camera as often as I was due to my role on the Intelligence Committee.  What in the world was making them even consider me?

I walked into the house, tossing my keys on the kitchen counter as I passed.  I don’t even remember my drive home.  How bad is it that these thoughts are swirling through my head and I can’t remember driving home?  It is after seven and I know I should be hungry, but the thought of food turns my stomach.  I’m in knots over what Patrick told me and not sure how I should be reacting.  I walk to the living room and pour a glass of scotch before I sit down on the couch.  I know what I need to do, although that prospect scares me just as much.

I dial the number and he picks up on the second ring. “Hello son, I’m surprised to hear from you!” My father’s voice booms through the phone and I need to pull it away from my ear so he doesn’t shatter my eardrum.

“Hey, I’m not interrupting anything am I?” He’s right, I don’t usually call and I have no idea what his schedule is.  For all I know, the man could have been asleep by now.  What surprises me, though, is how happy he seems to be to hear my voice.

“No, you’re not interrupting at all.  I’m just sitting here reading a book and enjoying the evening. How are things down in DC? I saw the telecom vote today and I’m proud you voted no on that one.  Can’t believe most of those idiots voted for it.  Let me guess, they had a pretty little lobbyist turning their heads on that one?”

I had to stifle a laugh at his comment.  My father did know DC that’s for sure.  “Yeah, well she’s smart but yeah, she’s attractive.” I cleared my throat so I could move past the conversation about Hamilton and on to the reason for my call.  “Hey, the reason I’m calling has to do with something Patrick brought to me today.  The DNC wants me to consider running for President.”

There was silence on the other end of the line.  I started to worry that my father hung up on me.  I gave him a minute before I spoke again, “Dad, did you hear me?  The DNC wants me to throw my hat in the ring for President.”

Suddenly I heard my dad clear his throat, “I heard you, Christopher.  I was just letting it sink in and I was trying to compose my thoughts on this.  You know that’s a huge step and you’re just barely over the required age.  Hell, I think you’d be the youngest candidate to run.”

“I haven’t said I’m running,” I said a little too emphatically.  I then quickly changed my tone. “If I’m completely honest, I’m freaking out over this.  I think my eyes glazed over and I almost passed out when Patrick said it.  I don’t even know if I responded to him.”

“Chris, you willingly went into the Senate, but I’ve never heard you talk about aspirations for higher office.  You aren’t a fan of the press conferences and the dog-and-pony aspect of your job now, so do you want that on a much grander scale?”

I thought about it for a minute. “I don’t want the dog-and-pony part, but the ability to make a difference in this country and around the world appeals to me.  I’ve always wondered if I was able to do more if I was capable of more.  I think I found my calling, but I just never thought being President was a possibility.”

I could tell that my father was smiling.  When I joined the Marines after college, it was a lark.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that sitting in an office doing a repetitive job wasn’t it.  Then, when I went to the CIA, it was because I had an aptitude for certain things when I was in the Marines and the US wanted to capitalize on those things.  Then I went to the Senate because it seemed like a good idea and Bitsy was encouraging.  But now, well now, I felt like I belonged there and I was doing good work.  I felt like I could do more and I was where I needed to be.

“Chris, you can do whatever you set your mind to, you know that.  I’ll be proud of you and support you in whatever you decide to do.  Just know that if you run, your entire life will be under a microscope and you need to be prepared for that.  You might want to have this conversation with your mother and your brother.  Because they will be impacted as well.”

I let his words sink in. “What about you?  Are you worried about being put back into the spotlight?”

“Not at all,” my father’s voice got quiet, “But, Chris, remember that the media will talk about Elizabeth.  You’re going to have to relive your marriage and her death all over again.”

He was right, I wasn’t sure if I would be prepared for that.  I hadn’t agreed to anything just yet but I needed to keep her at the forefront of any decision.

~ * ~

I slide into the backseat of the towncar that Patrick had ordered for the evening.  Neither one of us felt like driving.  Honestly, I figured after the conversation we were going to have, I’d want to have a drink and I certainly didn’t want to get pulled over for drinking and driving.  That will kill my Presidential run before I’d even declared.  If I’m going to declare, that is.  

Patrick is sitting beside me, yet we don’t speak.  Both of us are staring out our respective windows and watching the reflection of the streetlights dance as we pass by.  We’re on our way to dinner at the 1789 Restaurant in Georgetown.  This restaurant is one of the most noteworthy dining experiences in the city.  It is in a residential area of Georgetown and is housed in a two-story Federal home that dates back to the mid-1800s.  It has a unique ambiance with antiques and maps of Washington DC as well as museum quality art pieces.  Presidents and visiting Heads of State have dined here over the years.  Most likely this is the reason the DNC decided this should be the location for this meeting.

We are on our way to meet with the head of the Democratic National Committee, Lance Bishop.   He is the one who reached out to Patrick to open dialogue regarding a Presidential bid.  Lance was a former State Senator from Nebraska and he was the legal counsel for the Nebraska Democratic Committee for years before he became their Chairman.  Several years later, he began working for the DNC and eventually put his hat into the ring to run for the National Chairman position.  I’d met him several times, of course, and he was a likable man and easy to converse with.

From the information Lance had passed on to Patrick, he is going to be bringing Tucker Nash to dinner.  I only know of Tucker, having never met the man. From what I understand, he’s from Mississippi and a key Democratic strategist that has run several successful campaigns for state and national races.  He knows what it takes to win and how to make it happen.  It is clear that, if they want to talk to me about running, they’re bringing out the big guns early to try and convince me.

We’re probably five minutes out from the restaurant when Patrick speaks up.  He never breaks his gaze from the window. “Do you think there’ll be anyone else besides Bishop and Nash there tonight?”  Patrick hates long silences, so I’m surprised he kept quiet as long as he did.  He finally breaks his stare and turns to look at me. “You know they said they wanted this meeting to be kept quiet.  So why in the world are they having us meet them in a trendy DC area restaurant?  Don’t you find that odd?”

I break my own view out the car window to make eye contact with Patrick. “No, it’s not odd, it’s smart.  If we met in some clandestine way and it ever leaked that we met it would be harder to explain and move past.  But if we meet in a public restaurant where we are seen, the story can be woven to say they were looking for me to endorse one of the current candidates.  It’s perception, nothing more, nothing less.  We won’t be talking in the middle of the restaurant.  No, we’ll be off in a secluded room where everyone can see us parade by and enter a room but can’t hear a damn thing we say to one another.”

Patrick doesn’t respond.  Instead, he just stares ahead and barely even blinks.  He knows I’m right, but he’s put off at how nonchalant I sounded when I talked about it.  I’m not freaking out and that is what he’s expected from me all along.  I’m not the type of guy who freaks out in public, but Lord help me when I’m in private and upset.  Sometimes, I can refrain from throwing things, but my language definitely gets colorful and I have no trouble raising my voice to be heard.

“Patrick, don’t worry about it because you’ll stress yourself out and give yourself an ulcer.  Just be prepared for the media onslaught over the next few days.  Until I speak up, or they do, people will be naturally curious, and yes, that means the media.  We need to just warn the office staff ahead of time.”

As the car pulls in front of the restaurant, I take a deep breath before opening the back door and stepping out.  I know the proper protocol is to wait for the driver to open the door, but I told him not to bother.  I’m not pretentious enough that I need to do that, at least not yet.  Before closing the door, I let the driver know we’ll give him a call when we’re ready for him to swing back and get us.  There’s no reason for him to just sit around and wait unless he wants to.

I button the jacket of my blue Ralph Lauren suit before opening the front door the restaurant.  I have to think of it as preparing to walk on stage and I need to be ready for the crowd.  The maitre d’ welcomes us as we walk in and begins to direct Patrick and me to the Garden Room where our party is waiting.  Of course, I see several people that I know and I stop to shake hands and greet them.  The downside of being a politician is that you can’t ignore anyone.  You may need them at a later date and every interaction, no matter how small, plays an impact on whether they will do you favors or give you a vote.

The Garden Room is situated just off the main dining room and is separated by French glass doors.  This allows you to visually be on display at the restaurant while keeping your conversations private.  I notice as we approach that they have cleared the room except one large round table for this evening’s festivities.  The DNC definitely wanted the appearance of intimate.  I saw Lance Bishop and Tucker Nash but realized they were being joined by two additional individuals that I didn’t quite recognize.  I could feel Patrick tense behind me.

The maitre d’ steps to the side and I open the doors to enter our dining room.  The first person that moves to greet me is Tucker Nash. “Hello, Senator Evans,” he speaks like a fine southern gentleman, someone of exceptional breeding as they might say.  “I am so thrilled that you were able to accept our dinner invitation.  I do apologize for the short notice.”  As Patrick enters behind me and the doors close, he moves to greet him.  “Mr. O’Neil, it is a pleasure to see you as well.  I do trust that you gentlemen already know Mr. Lance Bishop.” We both nod in confirmation and then move to shake Lance’s hand.

Once those introductions are complete, Tucker moves to introduce us to the other individuals in the room.  He stands next to a beautiful young woman, she is a light skinned African American woman with striking green eyes.  “Gentlemen, this is Ms. Claudia Hightower, she’s a media consultant from New York.  We’ve asked her to join us this evening for her perspective on several issues.”

I’ll admit, the idea that they had a media consultant on standby is a little concerning.  It means that their decision to speak to me about a potential Presidential run was more than just a general inquiry.  They had obviously done some intense research and it bore fruit, which is why they called this meeting in the first place.  

Tucker then pointed to a shorter and slightly balding man, introducing him as Richard Ramsey, a Political Science Professor at Quinnipiac University, one of the leading universities that handle Presidential polling data.  If they had a professor from the university that handles polling data, that means they have someone who can analyze the data and most likely can predict how things will play out.  Those folks don’t fool around.

Once the introductions were made and hands were shaken, Lance stepped forward. “Chris, it’s wonderful that you were able to join us tonight.  Why don’t we take a seat and dive into the specifics of why we asked you here and what we’re hoping to achieve this evening.” he lets his words trail off as he gestured to the table.

Everyone took their seats and Lance poured each of us a glass of water.  “As you know, Senator, we’ve already had several Democrats throw their hats into the ring for the Presidential nomination.  Several of the candidates are, shall we say, polarizing and the DNC rank and file have concerns.”

Patrick spoke up, “What type of concerns, exactly?”

Tucker decided to field the answer, “Concerns that there will not be a clear and decisive candidate that everyone can get behind.  Therefore, infighting will ensue and virtually hand the election to the Republicans.”

I know where is was going, and so does Patrick.  But instead of jumping right into it, we let Lance and Tucker do their dance and get to their strategy on their own.  It didn’t take long for Lance to put the train back on the tracks.

“As you can imagine, we need to need to find a candidate that can unite the party.  One that can become a clear frontrunner and turn the election on its ear.  Bring enthusiasm back into politics.  We’re looking for the next Kennedy.”

I almost choked on my water.  I raise my napkin to wipe my mouth and then glance over at Patrick.  He was as stunned as I was the statement had been made.  “You went looking for the next Kennedy and you thought of me?  How in the hell did you make that leap?  And please don’t say it’s because we’re both from Boston.”

There was stilted laughter around the table.  Tucker Nash leaned forward with a stern look in his eye. “Senator, it is definitely more than that.  You’re an eloquent speaker and you command attention when you’re at the podium.  You have bipartisan influence, which you have to admit is rare.  You’re a veteran and have a working knowledge of top secret security protocols.  You have a defined skill set that will work well within the office of the President and I think you know that.”

I had to admit they had me intrigued.  They were discounting the issue that I am not necessarily comfortable in the large speaking venues.  Sure, I’m good at it, and I can command a room, but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.  I have initiatives I want to further but who’s to say I can do that any better from the Oval Office than I can from the Senate floor?  I have to get along with Congress to push my agenda but that still doesn’t mean I get what I want.

“You honestly think I’m the guy to unite the party?” I ask and I mean it because I’m not thoroughly convinced.

Before anyone can chime in to give a response, the waiter enters the room and offers to take our drink order.  We agree to table any further discussions until he brings the drinks back since we don’t want the waiter to overhear what we are talking about.  We place our dinner order and I down my glass of Jameson.

Patrick decides he wants to bring up a point and I’m glad that he does.  I don’t want to be the only one who does all the questioning tonight.  “What concerns me is the fact that you’re approaching the Senator about running.  Isn’t this something that the DNC tries to avoid so it doesn’t look improper?” He glances around the table and watches as everyone nervously takes a drink.  “Look, I realize we’re all in the same party, but is it right for you to solicit a candidate when the party has members already running?”

Lance pushed his chair back and resituated himself so he could get comfortable and cross his legs.  He was going for a look of confidence but to me it looked like he was squirming because Patrick was starting to call him out.  “You have a valid point, Mr. O’Neill.  It would not be deemed as fair and appropriate if the DNC were actively looking to place a candidate into the role of the nominee.  However, we aren’t seeking to do that.  We are only seeking to find a candidate who has not yet declared themselves as a candidate, who we believe might be a viable candidate, and ask them to consider running.”

“Aren’t we only discussing semantics here?”  Patrick asked as he downed the rest of his whiskey.

Tucker’s lips curled into a slight grin.  If I didn’t know any better, I would think he was loving the fact that we were totally aware of the game and we were calling them out on it from the beginning.  “You know, Mr. O’Neil, you do have an interesting point.  But tell me, you know the Senator quite well, don’t you?”  Patrick nodded his head in response.

“And you’re his Chief of Staff, but you believe in his politics and his agenda.  Do you not?”  Once again, Patrick nodded in agreement.  “So, do you not think that he would be an exceptional candidate to run for the office of President of the United States?”

“My opinion is irrelevant, Mr. Nash.  If the Senator decided to run then I would support him in his endeavors.  However, I don’t want to toss him out there without the proper backing, vetting, and poll numbers to indicate he has a reasonable chance to win the nomination.  He isn’t going to be in it to just run, he’s going to be in it to win it.”

Now I had to smile.  Patrick was feeding off of what they were selling and they had reeled him in hook, line, and sinker!  Tucker and Lance knew it.  The amazing thing was that the other two people in the room had kept their mouths shut the entire night, except for their drink and dinner order.  I was curious as to what they had to say.

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