Tonight (we hope), the longest and hardest-fought Presidential campaign in recent memory finally comes to a close. To celebrate, we've assembled a list of the seven most memorable political campaign workers in the past 50 years of movies. We've got office staff members, campaign managers, and the candidates themselves, each one giving their all in the most important campaign of their lives.
1. Robert Redford, The Candidate
Redford plays activist and staunch idealist Bill McKay, son of the former governor of California, who reluctantly enters the race for Senator with little chance of winning, all so he can speak out honestly on "the issues." As his popularity and support grows, so do the temptations and pressures to compromise his beliefs. My favorite scene comes deep in the campaign when McKay goes a little nuts in the back seat of a car speeding to a TV station. Repeating his slogan over and over, he's so exhausted that all he can do is laugh hysterically. Peter Boyle and Allan Garfield play his equally memorable political operatives.
2. Warren Beatty, Bulworth
What is it about California that makes Senators go nuts? Up for re-election, California Senator Jay Bulworth (Beatty), no longer wishing to live, decides he can finally speak the truth instead of campaign rhetoric, making for a racous series of politically incorrect adventures. Beatty, of course, had previously made Shampoo, in which he spent Election Day in 1968 running around Los Angeles putting out romantic and business fires, but he outdid himself with Bulworth.
3. John Travolta, Primary Colors
Channeling the spirit of Bill Clinton as he portrayed the lightly-fictionalized Governor Jack Stanton, Travolta oozes cornball, stereotypical Southern charm. Still, he's undeniably warm and appealing, as in a late-night diner scene where he talks one-on-one with an ordinary Joe. The best performance in the film, though, may have been by Kathy Bates as the hardball operative Libby Holden. Libby spits a string of hilarious obscene bullets out of her mouth, even though her heart is eventually pierced by Stanton's self-serving selfishness.
4. Cybill Shepherd, Taxi Driver
When Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) spots Betsy (Shepherd), looking like an angel as she walks into the campaign office of New York Senator Palantine, he suddenly decides to get political and volunteer. Many romances have probably started that way -- countless hours of toiling together for the greater good, the idealism that binds -- without ending in mass murder. Albert Brooks is pretty good as the fellow campaigner who tries to fend off Travis, but it's Shepherd's other-worldly Betsy, the one pure spot in the filthy cesspool of Travis' mind, who stands apart as a paragon of campaign goodness.
5. Martin Sheen, The Dead Zone
Sheen would later play the President's chief of staff and, most famously, the President himself on The West Wing, but here he is the personification of evil as senatorial candidate Greg Stillson. To everyone else, he's a radical, energizing, smiling third-party candidate. Poor Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) sees him for what he will become when he reaches the White House in the future, and does everything he can to expose Stillson. Sheen has never been more unctuous -- or dangerous.
6. Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate
Meryl Streep played the character with a slightly diffrent slant in Jonathan Demme's remake, but you really have to see Angela Lansbury in John Frankenheimer's 1962 original to appreciate the extent of Mrs. Iselin's evil manipulations. Beneath her kindly, matronly exterior beats the heart of a crafty devil, ready to betray all that is good and holy in the name of power. She browbeats both her doomed son Raymond (Laurence Harvey) and cowardly husband, Senator Iselin (James Gregory) and is eventually revealed as a truly frightening harridan. You have to hand it to her, though: until the climax, she runs a pretty effective campaign.
7. Reese Witherspoon, Election
Oh, Tracy! The adorably cute Witherspoon played the insufferably ambitious Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne's brilliant and harsh comedy. She is sneaky, underhanded, and ruthless as she plots to win the election as high school class president, despite the increasingly desperate measures by Matthew Broderick to stop her. With her bright smile and shallow, insincere, ultimately winning personality, Witherspoon as Tracy is probably the scariest campaigner of them all.
Now it's your turn -- who are your most memorable cinematic campaign workers and candidates?