The Perfect Candidate – Chapter 10

Senator Chris Evans

The conversation at the table was surreal.  I could not believe we were actually discussing my potential run for President of the United States.  In my head, I was volleying back and forth between this being a far-fetched idea and a brilliant one.   The media consultant and the pollster were not participating in the conversation, they were just listening.  However, I needed to change that and get them engaged.  

I turned to the woman seated to the right. “Ms. Hightower, correct?”  She nodded and I noticed she sat a little straighter in her seat.  I had felt her watching me very closely all night and now I wanted to hear what she had to say and why.   “You’ve been awfully quiet this evening.  I’m interested in your opinion regarding this meeting and the role you play.”

She cleared her throat and began to speak.  “Senator, I think Mr. Bishop and Mr. Nash have outlined their intent for the evening.  There’s substantial interest in the prospect of you..”

I help up my hand to cut her off.  “Claudia, if I may.  I asked for your opinion about the meeting and your role.  I know what Bishop and Nash are doing and why we’re here.  But tell me why you’re here and why you want to be part of it.  I know you do marketing and public relations and you’re going to spin information.  So how about we cut to the chase?”  I gave her a wink to let her know I wasn’t trying to be a complete jackass.

“Okay, I’m here because I ran the numbers to see how well you would play in the markets outside of Massachusetts.  I had to do research on your family, your voting background, your beliefs, even what you eat for breakfast.  I needed to know what was lurking in the shadows that could possibly kill your presidential bid before it even starts.  I think you are a smart choice and this meeting was the best way to go about trying to convince you to run.”

“Does your data tell you all of that?”  

“Yes and no.  The data tells me you are well liked at home.  You have a high approval rating and they support your decisions.  Your constituents loved your father and by virtue of family ties, they immediately loved you.  It certainly didn’t hurt that you were a veteran and considered a war hero.”  

Claudia paused as if she was watching me for any sort of reaction.  Somehow, I had this feeling that what was coming next wasn’t going to set well with me.  “You’re a widower, the death of your wife endeared you to your constituents and made you relatable to the masses.  However, in DC you’re seen as aloof and known for being prickly.  There are exceptions.  You have several close friends in the Senate, but that’s it.  It does count that you’re well respected and everyone knows you do your due diligence before a vote.  They trust when you speak and are even willing to vote your way if you make an impassioned plea for them to do so.

“I’m here because I was asked to join.  I stayed because the information I found made me realize you aren’t a power hungry, step-all-over-the-little-man type of politician.  It’s refreshing and that’s someone I could get behind.”

I listened carefully to everything she had to say.  I’m impressed that she didn’t refer to a file or note cards for her information.  Everything was in her head and that meant she had studied and understood what she had found.  The thing is, I can’t disagree with anything she’s said.  I glanced over at Patrick to see if he wants to say anything.  He appears to be just as impressed as I am.  But I can tell he wanted to ask her a question, so I gave him a head nod and encouraged him.

“Ms. Hightower,” Patrick spoke up, “Does Chris, excuse me, Senator Evans, have the broad appeal that he would need to run?”  It was the question that we were there for, so it only made sense that we get it out of the way.  “I think it’s great you’ve done your basic homework on him, but most of what you’ve rattled off can be found on Wikipedia.”

Lance Bishop raised his hand to his face to hide his smile.  Tucker Nash had a hard time swallowing his drink.  I think Patrick caught them all off guard with his comment.  

“Mr. O’Neill,” Claudia began as she stared him straight in the eye, “I do need to commend you for helping the Senator keep his involvement quiet in saving your life in Afghanistan.  As well as his assistance in getting you the therapy and medical services required after your life began to spiral out of control when your sister, the Senator’s wife, passed away and your own wife left you.  Frankly, the fact that he has saved your ass more than once would endear him to more of the population if that information was readily available to the general public.”

Patrick’s eyes began to blaze. I could tell he wanted to propel himself across the table at Claudia Hightower.  I placed my arm across his chest as if I was holding a child in place before the impact of a car accident.  I didn’t like what she had said either, but she was making a point and I had to at least respect what she was doing.

I glanced at Patrick, giving him a look that let him know I would handle the response.  I turned to Ms. Hightower and leaned forward.  “You’ve made your point.  So, you were able to obtain some information that might not be available through a basic internet search.  I appreciate that you were polite earlier in not referencing those details.”  I scanned the faces of the men at the table then calmly continued.  “As you can imagine, the issues related to Mr. O’Neill and any of the circumstances regarding the passing of my wife are not for public consumption.  They are not to be used in campaign materials and are not propaganda.  Am I understood?”

“Yes, sir, Senator.  However, if I found this information, you know that any of your opponents can find it as well.  These things most likely will be brought up, you have to be prepared to handle them.”

She was right.  I had been lucky that in the Senate race, my opponent hadn’t used Elizabeth.  Primarily because he knew it would work against him.  But in a national race, the gloves were off and something that would generally garner sympathy could be spun to make me look bad.  Don’t ask me how my wife dying of cancer could make me look bad, but I had to be prepared.  More than anything, I think the fact that Patrick had had addiction issues and he was my right-hand man would be my achilles heel.  

I turned and faced Richard Ramsey. “What do you think my chances are if I run?”

Ramsey pushed his glasses up on his nose and cleared his throat. “Out of the candidates that are currently running, if you were to join the race, you would immediately begin leading the polls and by a decisive margin.  You have name recognition and you were able to generate excitement.”  He reached for his glass of water and took a sip.  “We ran some polling data in which we made you the presumptive nominee and put you against the Republican front-runner and the race was tight.  That was without any platform or issues being put forth by you, sir.”

Tucker leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head.  “Senator, I think this shows us that you would be an incredibly solid candidate and you should seriously consider a Presidential run.”

“You’re leaving out a big piece here, Tucker,” I start to retort, “You’re not supposed to actively lobby for a candidate to run when the DNC already has several members of their party actively seeking the nomination.”

Tucker partially stood so he could lean forward on the table.  He was trying to look menacing and powerful, but it wasn’t working on me. “I told you already, Senator, we need a candidate who can win and right now we don’t have that.  Which is why we’re having this conversation.”  He raised a hand and waved it at the dining room outside the french doors that separated us from the rest of the restaurant. “To the outside world, this is a meeting for us to get you to vote for one of our current candidates.  Unless you plan on telling them otherwise.”

As Tucker took his seat, the door opened and our waiter walked in.  Our dinners were being brought in, so, once again, we tabled any discussions while servers moved around the room.  I let the information they had given me run through my brain.  They were spouting off facts like I’m popular at home and that I have name recognition.  But they weren’t saying why they thought I’d win.  Did they honestly think that, just because I’m more likable than the Republican candidate, I’d  win?  

I take several bites of my steak and then slowly put my utensils down and pushed my plate back.  I wiped my mouth with my napkin and reached for the glass of wine that had been poured when dinner was served.  As I set my glass back on the table, I decided to take a chance and say what was on my mind.

“If I am to understand this, the DNC wants me to run for President without having any idea of what my platform might be or what I stand for.”  Tucker moved to interrupt, but I held up my hand to stop him.  “If you want me to run, you should know the basics.  I’m a moderate Democrat.  Lance, you already know that.  I’m liberal, but no so far left that I can’t be mainstream.  I don’t want to take guns away from anyone.  After all, it’s their Constitutional right.  But I do believe in gun control and I do know that seems odd since I’m a military veteran.”

Lance put down his fork and gave me a hard stare. “Is this your way of saying this is your platform and you’ll run?”

I shake my head. “I’m not saying anything right now.  All I’m doing is giving you facts about who I am and what I stand for before you tell me that you’re ready for me to accept.”

“If I may, Senator,” Claudia said as she placed her napkin on the table.  Immediately, all eyes at the table shifted to her.  “I believe your platform would also revolve around education and veteran rights.  You’ve spoken at length regarding the importance of education for our youth and the need to raise our standards to compete on a global stage.  Math and science initiative need to be prominent and educational access should not be based on geography or parental status.”

Patrick leaned over and whispered, “I think she read some of your speeches.  She really did her research.”  I nodded in agreement.

“You’ve also spoken in depth regarding our veterans and the epidemic of their lack of health care or access to services for mental issues due to wartime trauma.  You’ve advocated an easier health care system that didn’t rely solely on the Veteran’s Administration, especially after the debacle in Phoenix a few years ago.”  She paused for effect and turned to look at Lance and Tucker who nodded in encouragement.  “Am I remotely close to touching on the issues that you would indicate are close to your heart, sir?”

“Claudia, if I run for office are you going to be on my campaign team?”

“It would depend.  Are you going to run and be the man we know you can be?  Or are you going to be the Senator with the propensity to argue with lobbyists and refuse to do interviews?”

“Touche.” Ms. Hightower had certainly done her homework and was not afraid to speak her mind.  I actually liked that.  Don’t get me wrong, I had no feelings for her in any way other than professional.  But I was impressed that she wasn’t afraid of me or the conversation that we’re having.

As everyone finished up with dinner, Richard Ramsey spoke up, “Senator, there is one other matter that we should bring up and I think it may have a significant impact on your decision to run.”

Lance and Tucker exchanged glances, I could tell they looked worried.  They didn’t say anything to keep Richard from speaking, but I could sense that they wanted to.  Even Claudia tensed a little.

“Ok, what would that issue be, Richard?”  I asked delicately.

“Your marital status.”  

His answer was a matter of fact and I was glad I wasn’t taking a drink because I would have spit sprayed it across the room.  I heard Patrick let out an audible, “Fuck” after Richard dropped that little bomb.  I stared at him and tried to keep my voice even, “What about my marital status?”

“Well, sir, with all due respect, we haven’t had a bachelor President since James Buchanan.”

“That’s true, but Grover Cleveland was a bachelor when elected and got married in the White House and we’ve had four Presidents who entered the White House as widowers.  I’m not seeing that my status as a widower who is not in a relationship is a burden to a potential Presidential campaign.” I couldn’t help that my voice was starting to rise and I was getting indignant.

Patrick put his hand on my shoulder in an attempt to calm me.  “Chris, let them talk and listen to what they have to say.”

Tucker decided to speak up and see if he could smooth the situation. “Putting all the cards on the table, here it is in a nutshell.  You’re a handsome guy, Chris, and the media will have a field day with a single candidate that looks like you.  The women on the campaign trail will swoon and the fact that you have a solid platform will be ignored because everyone will comment on how handsome you are.”  I scoffed at what he said g because it was ridiculous.  “If you’re viewed as being in a committed relationship, the focus moves away from your looks and onto your platform.  And the comments about your less than perfect disposition goes away, too.”

“So you want me to deceive the American people to get elected?  Enter into a fake relationship and pretend to be dating, engaged, or married so that I look like I’m the perfect candidate?   You all know that didn’t work for Jack Kennedy, right?”

“Actually,” Claudia spoke up, “The popularity of Jackie helped quite a bit.  She was every bit as popular as her husband and you know that.  I think you are aware that this is a smart ploy to get you in the White House but you don’t want to admit it.”

“It’s disrespectful to my wife,” I choked out before I downed the rest of the glass of wine that was sitting in front of me.

The room was quiet for several minutes before Lance Bishop spoke.  “Chris, we don’t want to tarnish the relationship you had with Elizabeth in any way.  We aren’t saying we will ignore the fact that she passed, we know cancer research and health care is a platform for you as well.  Celebrate Elizabeth, but you can have a woman in your life, at least for the campaign.”

Deep down I knew they were right.  I had been without Elizabeth for longer than I was married to her.  Patrick had even alluded to the fact that I had mourned long enough.  I think it has been easier for me to be the mournful widower than to put myself out there and try to date.  After all, now that I’m a public and political figure, you never know if the intentions of someone were pure or not.

“Fine, I take it you have someone in mind?”

Lance and Tucker shook their heads, but Claudia spoke up, “I do.  I have the perfect candidate in mind.”

~ * ~

Patrick and I arrived back at my house around ten.  I walked into the house and tossed my keys into the small bowl on the table in the foyer.  The events of our dinner still swirled through my brain.  There was just too much to comprehend.  The idea that they wanted me to run for office, that I could deal with. The fact that they wanted me to run and have a significant other for the campaign?  Well, I didn’t like it, but it made sense and I’d live with it.

However, when Claudia Hightower said she had the perfect candidate for me to use in my fake relationship I had not expected her to suggest Greer Hamilton.  I almost choked on my drink before I could manage to say anything.  When I could speak I gave her a piece of my mind and let her know I how felt about it.  In fact, I think my exact words had been, “No fucking way!”

I walked into the living room and sat down on the couch.  Resting my head against the back of the couch, I covered my face with my hands and let out a strangled sigh.  I could hear Patrick laughing, and from the sound of his voice, he was over near the bar.  Sure enough, I heard the clink of the top of the decanter opening.  He was pouring us each a drink.

He came towards me and kicked my foot, causing me to startle and sit up.  “Here, drink this, you’ll feel better.”

I took the glass and drank its contents in one gulp.  The burn on the way down felt good.  “Can you believe she suggested Hamilton?”  I didn’t expect Patrick to respond, but I certainly didn’t expect him to laugh.

His snicker echoed through the house. “The look on your face was priceless.  My God, I thought you were going to have a stroke.”

“It’s not funny.” I stood up and walked over to pour another glass of scotch.  “I have no clue why she even suggested it and I can’t even fathom it.”

“Well, maybe if you hadn’t gotten up and stormed out you could have heard the reasoning.”

“Holy shit, you think this is that funny?”  I asked while glaring at my soon-to-be former Chief-of-Staff if he wasn’t careful.  “How in the hell can you even remotely think this is comical?”

“Think about it, Chris.  The tension between the two of you is off the charts.  What if it’s sexual tension?”

“I can tell you it isn’t sexual tension!” I spat back at him.

“You’re too upset over this which means there are deeper feelings,” Patrick rose from his seat and walked over towards me.  I can tell he’s guarded because he’s afraid I’m gonna throw a punch.  The thought crosses my mind but I’m holding back at the moment.  “I think you owe it to everyone to at least listen to their train of thought.  I don’t think it’s a bad idea, actually.  You and Greer Hamilton are stunning together.”

I let out a growl, his words are not what I want to hear.  But he has a point.  The absolute least I could do is to listen to their pitch.  Just because I listen to it doesn’t mean I have to agree.  But it was rude for me to walk out.  I grab my phone and quickly fire off a text to Lance.

I’m sorry I walked out.  I’m willing to reconvene and discuss.  Call me tomorrow to set up.

Almost immediately he texted me back.

I understand.  We hit a nerve.  I’ll call you tomorrow, thanks, Chris.

“There, I’ve texted Lance and we’ll meet tomorrow.  I’ll give them a chance to pitch the idea of a relationship with Greer.  Does that make you happy?”

Patrick smiled and started for the door. “Yes, it does. Now if you only keep an open mind about it and give it serious consideration it would be even better.”

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