Some people say Shannon Demar is too smart for politics. Some say she’s too smart to be a Democrat. Some say she’s a reincarnation of Frank Capra, playing out a real world Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Reincarnation talk is big in Washington these days.
As smart as she was, she couldn’t tell if she was supposed to say anything in this meeting. She had learned while climbing up the endless chain of campaign hierarchy that you didn’t talk on your first day. You nodded when you agreed with who was talking and grimaced while writing something down when you didn’t. Then you waited until someone pulled you aside after the meeting and said “You seemed to agree/disagree with me in there.” That’s when you proved your worth and got closer to the center of the circle. Now here she was, as center as anyone could get in the D.N.C and she was still wrapped up in edict.
“The Republicans have Texas wrapped up.” Patrick Downing’s voice brought her back to attention. “Best we can do is send some sacrificial lambs down to beg for whatever part of the Hispanic vote still holds a grudge for The Wall and hope one of the Republicans is caught pistol whipping a sick dog again.”
No one laughed. It was too soon since Hornberry for that to be funny.
“You’re always so ready to give up Texas,” Henry Berger said with a frustrated laugh. “If we don’t challenge them where they live why even be in the race? You don’t think they’re going after New York?”
It was thought Berger was a reincarnation of Lyndon B. Johnson, the way he truly believed you could make Texas a blue state. He had been right once, when he led two winning gubernatorial campaigns for Roger Walters. Those wins are what brought him here, into what was known as “The Gardening Club” to insiders.
“Fine,” Downing said. “Explain to me how we’re going to pull six more districts out of their hands by midterms.”
There had been a rumor Downing was a reincarnation of Bob Woodward, trying to get at the truth from the inside. This rumor was started by Downing and was widely disregarded. Most people thought he was Steve Allen.
“We muddle them up.” said Berger. “Send some plants down to the 9th, 15th, and 18th where we at least have a hope and let the Republicans cannibalize themselves. By the time they realize we’ve put our stock there, they’ll already have their strategy in motion and we can take them.”
Shannon grimaced and swirled her pen on the legal pad in front of her.
“Hey, new girl,” The voice belonged to Kathleen Flynn, head of the D.N.C. and arguably the scariest person to ever pull for the left. “It’s been twenty minutes and you haven’t so much as grunted. What’re your thoughts on Texas?”
Everyone had her pinned as Winston Churchill serving time in a liberal woman as a sort of purgatory. She reminded Shannon more of a politically savvy black mamba.
“Texas is a nonstarter.” Shannon said breaking her silence. “The Republicans don’t take it because they rest on their laurels. They have a strong home base their and they protect it.”
Berger put his hands up into the air as if to ask for divine intervention. Downing looked to Flynn for confirmation that he had won the standoff.
“That’s it then,” said Flynn, writing down a note in a legal pad that was the D.N.C equivalent of Holy Scripture. “Sorry Henry, The Lone Star stays red this year.”
Berger didn’t protest. There was a strange and terrible energy that came off of Flynn which gave her word finality.
“We should go after Ohio!” Shannon said, more rushed than she meant. Her three colleagues looked at her with confusion.
“Well, yeah.” Flynn said with a smirk. “We always send plants to Ohio. The Republicans need a win there so we make sure there are at least five districts that have maniacs making them sweat.”
“No, I mean we should just straight try to win.” Shannon said. It got no reaction. The other three were talking about winning, so they couldn’t grasp what brought on the tone of defiance.
“Look,” Shannon said, flipping her notepad to what she had written the night before. “Matt Fitzpatrick is hugely popular in Franklin County and he’s been talking about running for Senate. I think with him as the face of the Ohio Democrats we could take the Senate seat back.”
“Okay…” said Downing, frustrated that her outburst had usurped his planned agenda. “And, don’t get me wrong, Matt Fitzpatrick would make a great Senator and maybe even V.P. in a decade, but he’s a real deal. We’re only dealing with plants here.”
“Yes but,” Shannon thought this was as good a time as any to stage a revolution. “The money we’re putting into fake Republicans in these states is creeping up on how much we’re spending on our real candidates. What if we broke the cycle this year? We don’t send anyone down to Ohio except Fitzpatrick and some real strong picks with our backing and show the G.O.P. that we can win without subterfuge.”
Berger and Downing placed their faces in their palms as soon as it was clear what Shannon getting at. They had heard she was an idealist, but they figured Flynn would have kept her out of The Gardening Club if she couldn’t be worked with.
“Listen,” Berger said, “Once a week we hear one speech or another about how what we’re doing is poisoning this country’s oldest and most cherished tradition. How we’re the architects of an Orwellian horror and we should be ashamed. So every time we get the speech we always say the same thing.” He signaled Downing to finish the bit.
“That’s a great thought,” Downing said. “Now go tell it to the Republicans.”
Berger took back over. “We back off and suddenly there are going to be five other contenders for the Senate seat running as a Democrat, or whatever new socialist bogeyman party their people come up with.”
“Happened in New Hampshire six years ago,” Downing cut in. “We had a made-man in Jack Crane. Liked by the poor, liked by middle class, hell even the rich weren’t that put off by him. We think he has the seat locked up, and then bang! We have some joker with funding from the G.O.P war chest laundered through dummy funders show up and start with the promises. ‘Everyone who makes under $30,000 a year will get a full refund on their state taxes and the difference will be made up for with increases for people who make over $50,000’. Now the poor vote swings to the new guy while the upper middle class starts to think that everything they’ve heard about Democrats is right. Right up through the nomination, Crane had to answer questions about why he couldn’t promise the same things his opponent did. By the time he got up to the actual election all his coverage was about how unimaginative he was and we lost it.”
“We got them back in Nevada though.” Berger reminded the group. “They thought they were going to walk right through us. Then I came up with Gomez, right wing whack job who proposes mandatory small arms training for all citizens over 18 and promises to roll back all the marijuana laws and adopt a 15 year minimum sentence for possession. He actually got their guy to swear in public he’d crack down on marijuana use before we had Gomez drop out of the race. Every liberal and moderate in the state came out in force for our guy and we took it.”
“Fine,” said Shannon, taking her turn before it was stolen by Flynn’s final decision. “It’s all fine when the system works, but what about Michigan, Maine, and every other time these plants worked too well and we end up with a fake nomine winning the primary.”
“Even better!” explained Downing “Then we have chance to make the whole G.O.P look like a pack of animals. Sex scandals! Tax fraud! Hell, murder if we’re feeling creative enough!”
Downing’s enthusiasm cooled as he caught Flynn staring him down. He cleared his throat and hoped that someone else would talk.
“It’s not pretty,” Flynn said after letting Downing sweat. “It’s done behind closed doors and if people ever found out it’d be the death of both parties. But that’s why no one will ever find out. Anyone who knows about it is using it. It’s a cold war, and we’re not going to be the ones to change it.”
Shannon looked across the table at Flynn and felt the best thing she could do at that moment is walk out. Resign and go to the first reporter who would listen to her. But she knew what the result it would be. It was the one issue that both Republicans and Democrats agreed on, and anyone who came out with it would have the denial from both sides of the aisle. They’d be made into a joke, passed off as a cautionary tale of stress, and removed from the process.
So she let it go. She let Downing go on about a great character he had come up with to throw the Republicans off their game in New Mexico. She sat half listening to how the midterms were going to be 1/18 plants, and how both parties knew that that figure would have to rise in two years. She knew they were right.
Some people say Shannon Demar is too smart for politics.