"In the primaries, you're going to blow everyone away," Tager replied. "As for the general election, President Norton is riding pretty high. If you had to run against him, he'd be pretty tough to beat. The good news, of course, is that since this is his second term, he can't run again and Vice President Cannon is a pale shadow. A little sunshine will make him disappear."
The meeting lasted for four hours. When it was over, Senator Davis said to Tager, "Peter, would you excuse us for a minute?"
They watched him go out the door.
Senator Davis said, "I had a talk with Jan this morning."
Oliver felt a small frisson of alarm. "Yes?"
Senator Davis looked at Oliver and smiled. "She's very happy."
Oliver breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm glad."
"So am I, son. So am I. Just keep the home fires burning. You know what I mean?"
"Don't worry about that, Todd. I - "
Senator Davis's smile faded. "I do worry about it, Oliver. I can't fault you for being horny - just don't let it turn you into a toad."
As Senator Davis and Peter Tager were walking through the corridor of the state capitol, the senator said, "I want you to start putting a staff together. Don't spare any expense. To begin with, I want campaign offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco. Primaries begin in twelve months. The convention is eighteen months away. After that, we should have smooth sailing." They had reached the car. "Ride with me to the airport, Peter."
"He'll make a wonderful president."
Senator Davis nodded. And I'll have him in my pocket, he thought. He's going to be my puppet. I'll pull the strings, and the President of the United States will speak.
The senator pulled a gold cigar case from his pocket. "Cigar?"
The primaries around the country started well. Senator Davis had been right about Peter Tager. He was one of the best political managers in the world, and the organization he created was superb. Because Tager was a strong family man and a deeply religious churchgoer, he attracted the religious right. Because he knew what made politics work, he was also able to persuade the liberals to put aside their differences and work together. Peter Tager was a brilliant campaign manager, and his raffish black eye patch became a familiar sight on all the networks.
Tager knew that if Oliver was to be successful, he would have to go into the convention with a minimum of two hundred delegate votes. He intended to see to it that Oliver got them.
The schedule Tager drew up included multiple trips to every state in the union.
Oliver looked at the program and said, "This - this is impossible, Peter!"
"Not the way we've set it up," Tager assured him. "It's all been coordinated. The senator's lending you his Challenger. There will be people to guide you every step of the way, and I'll be at your side."
Senator Davis introduced Sime Lombardo to Oliver. Lombardo was a giant of a man, tall and burly, dark both physically and emotionally, a brooding man who spoke little.
"How does he fit into the picture?" Oliver asked the senator when they were alone.
Senator Davis said, "Sime is our problem-solver. Sometimes people need a little persuasion to go along. Sime is very convincing."
Oliver did not pursue it any further.
When the presidential campaign began in earnest, Peter Tager gave Oliver detailed briefings on what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. He saw to it that Oliver made appearances in all the key electoral states. And wherever Oliver went, he said what people wanted to hear.
In Pennsylvania: "Manufacturing is the life-blood of this country. We're not going to forget that. We're going to open up the factories again and get America back on the track!"
In California: "The aircraft industry is one of America's most vital assets. There's no reason for a single one of your plants to be shut down. We're going to open them up again."
In Detroit: "We invented cars, and the Japanese took the technology away from us. Well, we're going to get back our rightful place as number one. Detroit's going to be the automobile center of the world again!"
At college campuses, it was federally guaranteed student loans.
In speeches at army bases around the country, it was preparedness.
In the beginning, when Oliver was relatively unknown, the odds were stacked against him. As the campaign went on, the polls showed him moving up.
The first week in July, more than four thousand delegates and alternates, along with hundreds of party officials and candidates, gathered at the convention in Cleveland and turned the city upside down with parades and floats and parties. Television cameras from all over the world recorded the spectacle. Peter Tager and Sime Lombardo saw to it that Governor Oliver Russell was always in front of the lenses.
There were half a dozen possible nominees in Oliver's party, but Senator Todd Davis had worked behind the scenes to assure that, one by one, they were eliminated. He ruthlessly called in favors owed, some as old as twenty years.
"Toby, it's Todd. How are Emma and Suzy?...Good. I want to talk to you about your boy, Andrew. I'm worried about him, Toby. You know, in my opinion, he's too liberal. The South will never accept him. Here's what I suggest..."
"Alfred, it's Todd. How's Roy doing?...No need to thank me. I was happy to help him out. I want to talk to you about your candidate, Jerry. In my opinion, he's too right-wing. If we go with him, we'll lose the North. Now, here's what I would suggest..."
"Kenneth - Todd. I just wanted to tell you that I'm glad that real estate deal worked out for you. We all did pretty well, didn't we? By the way, I think we ought to have a little talk about Slater. He's weak. He's a loser. We can't afford to back a loser, can we?..."
And so it went, until practically the only viable candidate left to the party was Governor Oliver Russell.
The nomination process went smoothly. On the first ballot, Oliver Russell had seven hundred votes: more than two hundred from six northeastern industrial states, one hundred and fifty from six New England states, forty from four southern states, another one hundred and eighty from two farm states, and the balance from three Pacific states.
Peter Tager was working frantically to make sure the publicity train kept rolling. When the final tally was counted, Oliver Russell was the winner. And with the excitement of the circus atmosphere that had carefully been created, Oliver Russell was nominated by acclamation.
The next step was to choose a vice president. Melvin Wicks was a perfect choice. He was a politically correct Californian, a wealthy entrepreneur, and a personable congressman.
"They'll complement each other," Tager said. "Now the real work begins. We're going after the magic number - two hundred and seventy." The number of electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Tager told Oliver, "The people want a young leader... Good-looking, a little humor and a vision... They want you to tell them how great they are - and they want to believe it... Let them know you're smart, but don't be too smart... If you attack your opponent, keep it impersonal... Never look down on a reporter. Treat them as friends, and they'll be your friends... Try to avoid any show of pettiness. Remember - you're a statesman."
The campaign was nonstop. Senator Davis's jet carried Oliver to Texas for three days, California for a day, Michigan for half a day, Massachusetts for six hours. Every minute was accounted for. Some days Oliver would visit as many as ten towns and deliver ten speeches. There was a different hotel every night, the Drake in Chicago, the St. Regis in Detroit, the Carlyle in New York City, the Place d'Armes in New Orleans, until, finally, they all seemed to blend into one. Wherever Oliver went, there were police cars leading the procession, large crowds, and cheering voters.
Jan accompanied Oliver on most of the trips, and he had to admit that she was a great asset. She was attractive and intelligent, and the reporters liked her. From time to time, Oliver read about Leslie's latest acquisitions: a newspaper in Madrid, a television station in Mexico, a radio station in Kansas. He was happy for her success. It made him feel less guilty about what he had done to her.
Everywhere Oliver went, the reporters photographed him, interviewed him, and quoted him. There were more than a hundred correspondents covering his campaign, some of them from countries at the far ends of the earth. As the campaign neared its climax, the polls showed that Oliver Russell was the front-runner. But unexpectedly, his opponent, Vice President Cannon, began overtaking him.
Peter Tager became worried. "Cannon's moving up in the polls. We've got to stop him."
Two television debates between Vice President Cannon and Oliver had been agreed upon.
"Cannon is going to discuss the economy," Tager told Oliver, "and he'll do a good job. We have to fake him out. Here's my plan..."
The night of the first debate, in front of the television cameras, Vice President Cannon talked about the economy. "America has never been more economically sound. Business is flourishing." He spent the next ten minutes elaborating on his theme, proving his points with facts and figures.
When it was Oliver Russell's turn at the microphone, he said, "That was very impressive. I'm sure we're all pleased that big business is doing so well and that corporate profits have never been higher."
He turned to his opponent. "But you forgot to mention that one of the reasons corporations are doing so well is because of what is euphemistically termed 'down-sizing.' To put it bluntly, downsizing simply means that people are being fired to make way for machines. More people are out of work than ever before. It's the human side of the picture we should be examining. I don't happen to share your view that corporate financial success is more important than people..." And so it went.
Where Vice President Cannon had talked about business, Oliver Russell took a humanitarian approach and talked about emotions and opportunities. By the time he was through, Russell had managed to make Cannon sound like a cold-blooded politician who cared nothing about the American people.
The morning after the debate, the polls shifted, putting Oliver Russell within three points of the vice president. There was to be one more national debate.
Arthur Cannon had learned his lesson. At the final debate, he stood before the microphone and said, "Ours is a land where all people must have equal opportunities. America has been blessed with freedom, but that alone is not enough. Our people must have the freedom to work, and earn a decent living...."
He stole Oliver Russell's thunder by concentrating on all the wonderful plans he had in mind for the welfare of the people. But Peter Tager had anticipated that. When Cannon was finished, Oliver Russell stepped to the microphone.
"That was very touching. I'm sure we were all very moved by what you had to say about the plight of the unemployed, and, as you called him, the 'forgotten man.' What disturbs me is that you forgot to say how you are going to do all those wonderful things for those people." And from then on, where Vice President Cannon had dealt in emotions, Oliver Russell talked about issues and his economic plans, leaving the vice president hanging high and dry.
Oliver, Jan, and Senator Davis were having dinner at the senator's mansion in Georgetown. The senator smiled at Jan. "I've just seen the latest polls. I think you can begin redecorating the White House."
Her face lit up. "Do you really think we're going to win, Father?"
"I'm wrong about a lot of things, honey, but never about politics. That's my life's blood. In November, we're going to have a new president, and he's sitting right next to you."