The Campaign that Wasn't | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


The Campaign that Wasn't

I shouldn't be talking to you," came a voice from the shadows. "Anybody figures out who I am and I'll be in a world of shit. But frankly, I'm pissed off. I put in a ton of work on this stuff, and I've got nothing to show for it."

We were standing in the Las Olas Riverfront parking garage. It was a sweltering August night, yet for some reason, the figure standing behind the concrete column was wearing a trench coat. I suppose he was trying for a Deep Throat effect, but the situation (and his short-brimmed, felt hat) brought to mind not so much Hal Holbrook in All the President's Men as Eddie Murphy in Trading Places.

"Part of me wants to just burn the storyboards, trash the Quark files, dump the hats and bumper stickers in the Everglades, and be done with it," he rasped through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

Then the man, who had called a few hours before and asked me to meet him here, placed his briefcase on the hood of his Lexus, snapped it open, and produced two manila envelopes. Each had a name printed on it in big block letters: One read "Bush," the other "Reno." Just like in The Usual Suspects. For a guy who claimed to be South Florida's top campaign consultant, he sure seemed to spend a lot of time watching DVDs.

He wanted me to call him the Player. (Again with the movies!) For a couple of reasons, he said he was showing me proposed campaign materials for the two top gubernatorial candidates, both of whom spurned him. "Vanity, for one," he admitted. "I think this is some of my best work; it'd be a crime if these materials never saw the light of day. Second, one of these jokers is going to lose, and when he or she does, I want the world -- well, the 20 or 30 people who read your paper, anyway -- to know that the outcome could've been very different. Hell, looks like Reno might even go down in the primary. Serve her right for blowing me off."

The Player cleared his throat. He was sweating a lot. The tension or just the trench coat? "But I also want to keep my foot in the door with the winner, know what I mean? So you'd better not ID me, or I swear, I'll get medieval on your ass." I didn't have the heart to tell him how tired all those Pulp Fiction references were, so I swore up and down that I wouldn't reveal his identity, accepted the envelopes, and took them back to the office.

As a public service, New Times presents the contents of these envelopes, with commentary from their author. We believe the Player's rejected campaign materials show a certain spirit, bravado, a touch of derring-do. (Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Great, now he's got me doing it.) At any rate, submitted for your approval (The Twilight Zone -- aaagh!), here's a peek at the Campaign 2002 that almost was.


The Player approached the incumbent first. "Hey, who wouldn't want to be on the Bush Family's good side?" he chortled. "Who knows, if things had worked out, I could've been Jeb's Karl Rove." He described his overarching theme as "A Look Behind the Curtain.""His brother 's got this whole secrecy thing going. I thought we needed to distance Jeb from that a little bit, make him more accessible. Way more accessible."

"I loved this one: We set up a straw-man group, call them or something, fronted by some low-level Republican state legislator willing to take one for the team. (South Florida is crawling with chumps who are crazy enough.) Then have them post all this crap about how Reno shot Vince Foster, Reno gave Justice Department jobs to Bill Clinton’s love children, Reno bought box-cutters for Osama bin Laden, stuff like that. ”But his people told me they already had something like that in the works."

"This was my favorite: The Bushes, a reality TV show along the lines of The Osbournes." The Player was beaming. "Before that thing jumps the proverbial shark, we should grab onto its coattails.This would've been pure gold: Columba going on an international shopping spree,the twins coming into town and clubbing with Noelle, Jeb trying to get the remote to work and shouting, 'Columbaaaa!' And we even could have done the Spanish-language version on Univision: Los Arbustos — Jeb and his wife could have done their own overdubs en español!" He sighed. "It was right after I sent these story-boards in that they stopped returning my calls."

Soon after the Bush camp rejected him, the Player sent feelers to reno's people. "They seemed willing to listen," he recalled. "So I worked up a whole campaign that would both play to her strengths and undercut criticism of her weaknesses."

"My first message was simple: Not gay enough!" the Player shouted. "A fundraiser or two in a South Beach nightclub is a start, but I thought she needed to do much more. Believe me, if these core Democratic constituents feel like they're being taken for granted, they'll stay away from the polls in droves. Here's what I told her to do: 'Turn Kicks Sports Bar in Wilton Manors into your statewide headquarters, and get yourself a makeover, ASAP!' I know people at E!, so I set up an appearance for her on Fashion Emergency. Here's how I envisioned her new look."

"Next thing we needed to do was to get this woman into a tank. I told her handlers, 'Lose the truck. She needs to look tougher, tougher! People think Democrats are soft. And hey, she couldn't look any dumber than Dukakis.' And don't forget, we're at war, and Florida is positively crawling with terrorists. Our government needs to project the image of being ready for anything.
   "That image of Janet in the tank was going to be an icon for a whole slew of bumper stickers, posters, and direct-mail pieces," the Player yammered on. "Yeah, the whole Waco debacle could be seen as a liability, but that thing on Saturday Night Live where she crashed through the wall seemed to go over pretty well. That bumper sticker where she's about to roll over bin Laden is a laff riot."

"Seriously, this whole experience made me consider giving up this line of work," the Player groused. "But then I got a call from a judicial candidate asking for some help. The Judge Joyce shot glasses are coming in from the manufacturer next week. "He paused, then lowered his voice to a growl and declared, "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in."