The Election by Richard Warren Field (not to be confused
by the Tom Perotta book of the same name) is an earnest, lovably
guileless bit of a novel. Well-intentioned and endearingly cheesy,
this tale of an independent Presidential candidate's race for the White
House never quite finds its footing genre-wise. At times it hints at
broad satire; at others, it reaches in all apparent seriousness for
the moral high ground. Here, we find ourselves caught up in a web of
international intrigue involving U.S. fatcats and slippery South American
drug lords. There, we are suddenly caught up in a sleazy blackmail
scheme resulting in murder. Schizophrenic as it seems, The Election
finds a way to grow on you.
Principled, independently-wealthy network anchorman Michael Edwards
feels unfulfilled as he approaches middle life. The lofty dreams of his
young adulthood in the Sixties remain unrealized. The world has yet to
become the better place he'd hoped for. Egged on by his beautiful and
feisty wife (this is a woman who entered and won a beauty contest once just
so she could refuse the title and denounce pageants), Edwards announces
his candidacy for the highest office in the land. He is determined to
play clean as he joins the mud-slingingest game in town. When staffers
find dirt on other candidates, Edwards firmly refuses to walk down
that road. His Earth-conscious goal of a "Regenerating Biosphere,"
rendered implausible by party-liners' political agendas, and his "Nuclear
Bomb" in the war on drugs make Edwards an interesting (if inelectibly
radical) alternative to the incumbent Republican President and his
sleazy Democratic challenger.
Edwards' campaign kicks off a feud with rival network anchor Donald
Samuelson (yes, that does sound a lot like Sam Donaldson, now
that you mention it...). But as this political outsider's ideas start
to look more attractive to a jaded electorate, Edwards finds his old
journalistic peer to be of more off-the-record help than anything.
Edwards' ideas threaten certain Texans who've gotten rich and stayed
rich on fossil fuels; his plans to defuse the illegal drug situation in
the nation threatens the livelihood of south-of-the-border suppliers.
When these two groups put their devious heads together, it spells trouble
for the intrepid grown-up hippie -- trouble, and danger. And when a
seamy character from Edwards' flower-child days comes crawling out of the
woodwork, there's a scandal in store. Of course, what campaign can't have
one of those?
The big question in The Election is whether or not a
non-partisan candidate whose platform threatens the hard-won static
nature of the establishment has a realistic shot at 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue. The somewhat simplistic view of modern politics here allows
that to be achievable. For all its flaws, though, Field's story of
a good guy fighting the tough fight finds a way to make you care just enough
to stick with it, to hope for the Hollywood ending that will signal a
new era of American politics and leadership. Sheepishly or not, if you
get at least halfway into this debut, you'll probably want to stick
it out to the end -- just to see, you know.