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A senate candidate's ideals weaken as his position in the polls gets stronger.
After managing an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in the Midwest, Marvin Lucas flies to California to convince legal aid activist Bill McKay to run for the senate against the "unbeatable" Republican incumbent, Crocker Jarmon. Lucas, who enjoys the money and perks that come with managing a political campaign, drives to San Diego to meet Bill, the handsome, privileged son of former California governor John J. McKay. Estranged from his father, Bill proclaims that he hates politics and is not interested in running for anything, but his wife Nancy enthusiastically suggests that Bill has both the looks and the power to be a successful candidate. Lucas assures the skeptical Bill that he will have the perfect platform to get out his social and political message without encumbrance and writes his guarantee on the inside cover of a matchbook, "You lose." After attending a Republican rally, at which the slick Jarmon sarcastically denounces various liberal causes, Bill realizes that he wants to run and later announces his candidacy to a small group of reporters. Bill impresses the reporters with his candor and lack of political doubletalk, especially when he expresses unequivocal support for controversial issues such as busing and welfare. When Lucas introduces Bill to Howard Klein, a successful campaign and media advisor who tells Bill to get a haircut and dress more conservatively, Bill laughs off the importance of a new image, but complies. Initially, Bill is self-conscious shaking hands with strangers and awkward speaking before the small crowds who come to see him. Gradually, though, he becomes more comfortable with the crowds and the press, and his support starts to grow, especially among young, female voters who are attracted to his boyish good looks. As the campaign progresses, Bill begins to make small compromises, usually at Lucas' or Klein's urging, and easily wins the June Democratic primary, in which he ran unopposed. Because their goal is to lose, Bill does not see it as a problem when Lucas reveals that current polls project that he will receive only 32 percent of the vote in the general election, but Lucas lashes out at Bill, convincing him that a complete thrashing in November would make them both laughingstocks. Some time later, as they are about to fly from Los Angeles to San Diego, a campaign aide informs Lucas that there is a fire in the hills above Malibu, prompting Lucas to whisk Bill from the plane and drive toward the perimeter of the fire. Lucas is sure that Bill will have a golden opportunity to discuss his policies on environmental issues like over-development, watersheds and federal disaster insurance, but before Bill can speak to the press, they are distracted by Jarmon's arrival in a helicopter. The senator quickly takes charge, announcing that he has arranged for Malibu to be declared a federal disaster area and will soon introduce legislation on watersheds and federal disaster insurance, measures that he previously had opposed. When Bill approaches Jarmon to say that he wants to debate, Jarmon dismisses him with a perfunctory "sure you do, son," and quickly flies away. Continuing on the campaign trail, Bill makes some headway, but not enough to impress Lucas. Upon learning that a story is about to break that John J. endorses Jarmon, Lucas finally convinces Bill to approach his father. At John J.'s mountain retreat, Bill and his politically astute father are distant with each other, but Bill swallows his pride and asks John J. for a public statement of support. Soon an announcement is made that John J. fully endorses Bill and denies rumors that he ever supported Jarmon. As the election nears, crowds and support for Bill begin to swell, just as he and Nancy, who has been enthusiastic about the prospect of Bill's election, are becoming estranged from each other and argue over how much their private life has to be exposed to the public. As Bill begins to act more like other politicians, his standings in the polls rise, but many of his old friends turn against him for "selling out." Then prominent ABC television news anchor Howard K. Smith delivers a scathing on-air editorial criticizing him for dropping his once-fresh approach in favor of selling himself like laundry detergent. Stung, Bill goes to Lucas to talk, but Lucas is distracted by new polling numbers showing that Jarmon's lead in the race has been reduced to eight percentage points and the news that the now-worried Jarmon has agreed to a debate. On the evening of the televised debate, Bill initially falters and appears too young and inexperienced against the more seasoned Jarmon, but a last-minute exchange in which Bill deviates from Klein's scripted advice, leaves Jarmon appearing flustered and angry. After the debate, Bill is hurt when Jaime, a former office mate, refuses to speak to him, and another friend, Wilson, says that he understands what Bill is trying to do. Just then, a jubilant John J. leads a group of reporters over to Bill and gives him an enthusiastic handshake, telling him that he is now a politician. By the time of the election, Bill has turned into a slick candidate, even making a political deal to gain support from an old crony of his father, union boss Starkey. Preparing for bed the night before the election, Bill wistfully looks at the matchbook on which Lucas wrote "You lose." On election day, Bill and Nancy vote early in the morning, smiling before the cameras, just as a worried Jarmon and his wife do the same. All day, Bill's young, eager campaign volunteers work to get the vote out, despite the constant rain, and that night, as election returns show that Bill is starting to take the lead, his San Francisco campaign headquarters becomes the scene of a jubilant party. When television newscasters finally announce that Bill has been elected, he feels isolated and pleads with the elated Lucas for a moment alone. While Nancy, Klein and others talk about the success of the campaign and living in Washington, Bill has only a few moments alone with Lucas to ask, "Marvin, what do we do now?" before a crowd of joyous supporters swarm into the room.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||PG||Premiere Info:||World premiere in New York City: 29 Jun 1972; New York opening: 30 Jun 1972; Los Angeles opening: 6 Jul 1972|
|Release Date:||1972||Production Date:||
AFI Library; Pat's DVD* Netflix
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||Warner Bros., Inc.|
|Sound:||Mono||Production Co:||A Redford-Ritchie Production|
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