Photo Finish

“Good Morning Representative elect Foote!” teased Ted as he walked into the room.
“Hard to believe that it has been a week already – congratulations to you Mr. Stillwater you ran a
picture-perfect campaign. We shouldn’t have won.” Kerry paused to put her coffee on the table and leaned back as Ted sat in the chair across from her.
They both still carried the glow of winning a race that no one thought they could. The district had a high floor but a low ceiling of Democratic votes. Its smallish urban center was blue enough but then it stretched out into inflexibly red territory. The north of the district was populated with evangelical voters who turned out heavily and voted overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate no matter who that candidate was. The western portion was sparsely populated farmland.
The result was a district that the Cook political report called fool’s gold for team blue. That is until one week ago Kerry Foote when put together a coalition of voters that delivered the 11th to the Democrats by 742 votes or just over a half of a percent.
“Ted, you did the impossible. You really ran an amazing campaign: good paid tv, great earned media, top notch voter contact. Thank-you.”
Stillwater laughed, “you’ve got to be lucky to be good right?”
“Yes, and we were that weren’t we?” Kerry responded, “I mean the whole thing with our Lloyd’s past drug use coming out the Wednesday before the election and then that photo of him with the shirtless twink kissing his cheek. I may have hated his policies but I always liked Lloyd. That photo must have devasted his wife and kids.”
“That picture won the election. The raw votes downtown in the white liberal precincts and in the
Spanish speaking neighbourhoods are very close to what our side got two years ago. Hardly up at all. And, the western part of the district barely budged either. But the evangelical turnout cratered,” Kerry continued.
“Probably true – but that is politics, never dull,” Ted replied.
“Still, it doesn’t quite add up does it. I mean our Lloyd is nothing if not meticulous and I just don’t buy that he is some kind of secret closet case…”
“Well, I gu—”
“Ted let me tell you a story.” Kerry interjected
“It isn’t like Lloyd’s history with Adderall was public knowledge but it wasn’t a closely guarded secret either. It’s not entirely surprising that an alternative weekly got its hands on a twelve-year-old letter from an HR file showing Lloyd went to a rehab program. But it is odd that a reporter good enough to unearth that letter missed that Lloyd was in rehab for abusing prescription medication and wrote a story implying Lloyd had a problem with street drugs back in the day and maybe, just maybe, still did today. You and I both know he was using Adderall as a young lawyer to work longer hours and focus in Court while he took endless notes like a good little junior. I don’t think the guy has smoked a joint let alone done coke.”
“You were a partner at the same law firm back where Lloyd worked as an associate there weren’t you Ted?”
“I’m not sure what exactly you are implying congresswoman,” Ted seethed.
“You would have known he needed time off for treatment twelve years ago. But then, like I said, it wasn’t a closely held secret.”
“Then the ridiculous press conference with Lloyd – his mistake for sure – he was flustered and angry and made that really stupid comment about pictures or it didn’t happen.”
“Then that photograph comes out on Friday. And, the fact that it appears that there is cocaine on the table in the foreground lets us talk about it all weekend without looking like hypocrites. This is about a candidate for office with a current drug addiction. But that wasn’t it was it. I mean the Christian voters up north didn’t stay home because they were worried that Lloyd needed rehab – they stayed home because there is a picture of him getting kissed by a shirtless man while wrapping his arms around the shoulders of another guy.”
“Just doesn’t add up for me.”
“Then I realized it – that photo is from the upstairs room at Monkey Business – I mean no prize for recognizing one of two gay bars in town – but Lloyd making that kind of mistake, being that reckless seemed odd. I remembered that the owner of Monkey Business is a huge Lloyd fan. I asked him for a donation and I got a speech about property taxes, sales taxes, and the old city entertainment venue tax that Lloyd helped to kill when he was on the city council. That guy is a log cabin type. He could ignore the more offensive things Lloyd said because he trusted that was part of the act. Lloyd wasn’t going to come after his right to run a gay bar and make a profit.”
“It makes sense that Lloyd would have stopped by to thank him for his support after the debate at the Rotary club next door back during the primary.”
“I got to thinking, it wouldn’t take much for a guy who is active in the gay community with the human rights campaign and the fight for equal marriage to have a friend who tends bar at Monkey Business. It is a small community. Hell, when you walked me around the village it felt like you knew every second person.”
“A smart Democratic operative might have foreseen that his former associate and current city Councillor had the skills to win a crowded Republican primary. That kind of smart guy might want some security in his back pocket. That kind of smart professional campaign manager might even think a guy who has always been a business first republican suddenly becoming a culture warrior to win a primary deserved a little comeuppance.”
“It wouldn’t be hard to predict that Lloyd might stop by the bar to thank an early supporter and small business owner. It wouldn’t be hard to have a couple of friends ‘mistakenly’ stumble upstairs into a private party at 4:00 in the afternoon. Then, maybe, a bartender working upstairs moves a table close to the bar and dumps some sugar onto a mirror – odd right — but things are happening quickly.”
“A constituent (the guy on the right in that photo) asks an aspiring congressman, who is having a post debate celebratory pint, for a photo. Lloyd obliges and steps forward. The constituent wraps an arm around his shoulders and nudges him so the table in in the frame. Then just as a friend holds up his phone to get the picture a shirtless man dashes in and kisses the politician on his cheek. Everyone laughs. The afternoon carries on an everyone forgets about the photo.”
“I think you should stop talkin—”
“Then, you sit on that picture. Leak the dates of Lloyd’s treatment to some poor kid five minutes out of journalism school working for poverty wages at a weekly paper who is too green to know he is being used. And Lloyd, poor dumb Lloyd, bless his heart, goes out and says the stupidest possible thing: if I was using drugs there would be pictures. That you couldn’t have planned. He certainly gift wrapped that.”
“Then someone sends channel five that photo just in time for it to run on the Friday morning show.”
“It’s too late for Lloyd to fight back and really how can he – he looks like a closet case. I mean he did that horrible Sunday news conference where his poor humiliated wife had to stand beside him and it just made him look worse.”
“Evangelical voters stay home and we win.”
“Am I close? I mean we won right. Who cares if we betrayed our principles? Who cares if we destroyed a marriage and a family? Who cares if we relied on homophobia to win? Damnit Ted we are supposed to be better than this. I am better than this. You had no right to do this,” Kerry was yelling now.
“I had no right?” Ted barely whispered simmering with contempt. “We had no right? We didn’t play by the Queensbury rules and your delicate constitution is offended Ms. Prim and Proper –”
“Ted –”
“Shut up! I listened to your story now you listen to me. If, and I say if, your story is true what right do you have to tell Luis that we need to play nice? That young man worked 7 days a week for you. He has lived his whole life in this country that doesn’t want him as a citizen. All that keeps him from being sent back to a country he last saw when he was eighteen months old is an executive order that could evaporate with the next president if we don’t get actual legislation. How dare you tell the Dreamers that your delicate sense of fairness trumps their right to live in the country that has been home for their entire lives? How dare you tell me that abstract principles of fairness are more important than my right to marry the man I love. Really just stuff it Kerry! You will vote to protect what is left of the voting rights act and Lloyd would have gutted it completely. Your feelings are not worth more than the right of Black American’s to vote. You know Lloyd advocates further deregulation in the financial sector. Fair play doesn’t out rank my grandmothers right to live in her home and not be cheated out of her savings.”
“So, NO!”
“No, I don’t care how we won. I care that we won.”
“I don’t care how many interviews you give mewling in support of civility because I know how you’ll vote,” Ted continued.
“It isn’t your right to marry, your right to live in the country you love, your right not to get shot during a routine traffic stop that is on the line so just get off your high horse. Or don’t, I don’t care. You wanted to play in the big leagues and this isn’t bean bag.”
Ted stood and walked towards the door before adding “Congratulations representative Foote, the folder on the table includes resumes of the chief of staff candidates. I recommend choosing one of the top three – those three all have experience at the state level and will be able to handle Washington – you are going to need help in the big leagues Ma’am.”