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This is a brilliantly readable account of what was indeed an extraordinary election in America in 2008.  It starts from the beginning, with the candidates announcing their intentions to run, thoroughly discussing the Democratic and Republican campaigns to get the nomination, and then the presidential campaign.  The Democratic nomination campaigns quickly became a two-person race, between the well-known Hillary Clinton and the newer face of Barack Obama.  (While I do think Obama is terrific and I was lucky enough to be in a blue state in America for both of his elections, this book reinforced my view that Hillary would also have done an excellent job.)  The book demonstrates how important the Iowa caucus was to both candidates, and how infighting and bad management of finances within Hillary’s campaign caused so many problems.  Barack Obama’s campaign, while certainly not without its problems and mis-steps, seemed to run much more smoothly, in the end helping to win the nomination for him instead of the Clinton powerhouse.  (I actually found Bill Clinton’s part in Hillary’s campaign to be fascinating, as it seemed to hinder her as much as help her.)

McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination was not without its problems either, as many of the party viewed him with some suspicion.  However, he got the nomination and then faced an even tougher battle against the by this time seemingly unstoppable Obama.  The successful parts of his campaign are discussed, although at times there do not seem to be too many of them, and his bizarre choice of running mate is also examined in detail.

Sometimes I think if this was fiction and was made into a film, people would find it too unbelievable, but this is all true! The narrative is presented in an engaging tone, and it never feels dull or dry.  It also stays unbiased, and although it reports on some of the more unsavoury press which the candidates received during their campaigns, it never resorts to using the same tactics.  Overall, I would say that this is well worth a look to anybody with even a passing interest in politics or the election process.

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In this drama/comedy, Kevin Costner plays Ernest ‘Bud’ Johnson, something of a lovable loser just trying to get through each day in Texico, New Mexico, where workers are losing their jobs, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a future.  Since his wife walked out, Bud has been bringing up their 12 year old daughter Molly – but in truth, Molly is the adult in the relationship.

On election day 2004, Bud isn’t bothered about voting – despite Molly’s protestations that it’s his civic duty to vote, he decides to go and get drunk instead.  Molly sneaks into the voting booth to try and use her father’s vote but is foiled when the machine power cuts out.  The election, somewhat incredibly, comes down to just one vote – and because of Molly’s actions, that vote is none other than Bud’s.  A frantic race to secure the presidency ensues as both the Republicans (led by the encumbent president Andrew Boone, played by Kelsey Grammer) and the Democrats (led by Donald Greenleaf, played by the late great Dennis Hopper) try to persuade Bud into voting for them.  Each party is prepared to turn their back on their fundamental beliefs in order to secure Bud’s vote, while they search for an issue to campaign on that matters to Bud.  The problem is that nothing much ever really has mattered to Bud…but maybe he’s going to start finding something to care about.

If you can get past the highly improbable premise, this is a very enjoyable movie.  Kevin Costner is perfectly cast as slouch Bud, and Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper are also terrific.  Stanley Tucci is the president’s Chief of Staff, and he is always a welcome addition to any cast.

I couldn’t help thinking about the flaws in the storyline – how can Bud ever have an anonymous vote when the whole country knows that his vote will choose the next president?  Won’t he need protection as there will inevitably be people eager to exact revenge on him for picking who they feel to be wrong?  However, if you can suspend your disbelief and just enjoy the movie for what it is, there’s plenty to enjoy.  I’m sure many viewers might have a wry smile to themselves as both sides change their tune about several important issues in the belief that they are playing to Bud’s ethics.  As a tv producer says, “This isn’t about politics, this is about television.”

And who does Bud decide to vote for???  I’m not telling!!

Year of release: 2008

Director: Joshua Michael Stern

Writers: Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern

Main cast: Kevin Costner, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Madeline Carroll

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