It isn’t his age that bothers him, but rather the fact that he is aging. Generally lauded for the strength of his ascent, Lance Veld is now at the supposed apex for a would-be politician – the point at which one is expected to break through and secure the long-sought victory. He has come close before, but as he has progressed through his prime years, the excitement of aspiration has given way to the discomfort of knowing that the window of opportunity is shrinking.
Heady stuff for a junior tire salesman, but small-town municipal politics has a way of engrossing its participants, if not its on-lookers. For Lance, the prospect of becoming Mayor of Van Meter, Iowa is kind of a big deal. For Lance, the happenings preceding this year’s mayoral election are the most important series of events in the world. For Lance, the time is now.
In the last election, 2005, Lance had made a late surge in the polls only to come up just short and narrowly lose to local jackass Ozzie Williams. Lance had actually gained a greater percentage of the popular vote than Williams, but the latter was declared the victor because he had actually won more Districts than Lance. The loss hurt, but Lance pushed forward, comforted by the knowledge that popular vote percentage is actually a greater indicator of future success than is Districts won and lost. Williams is highly assailable as Mayor, owing to everything from his being off-base on policy issues a high percentage of the time to his poor fashion sense (the locals snicker at the omnipresence of his athletic socks even in business and formal settings).
He has assembled a relatively crack campaign staff, consisting mostly of neighbours, local busy-bodies and unemployed drinking buddies. He has a five person staff tasked with the assignment of going door-to-door in Van Meter, pitching Lance’s candidacy to anyone who will listen. One of them, Carmen, came completely out of nowhere. He entered the campaign last year as a last-minute replacement and has since displayed such great campaigning skills, one would suspect that he has made a deal with the devil. Two others, Jake and the Birdman, handle the leafleting, the former mostly by ground and the latter a little “higher” (prescribed by a doctor, he claims). And then, there is DeeDee. DeeDee is young, but she has experience beyond her years and has proven to be the most dependable and best campaigner on the staff. One of too few women campaigning for any candidate in Van Meter, DeeDee wears her hair slightly askew and looks a little like the before picture in an L.A. Weight Loss advertisement, but she’s the unquestioned leader of the staff. If a potential voter is almost committed, Lance calls in Joe to close the deal; Joe isn’t that good, but the people are pushovers by the time that he’s called on anyway, and it keeps him happy and, more importantly, too busy to mess up higher leverage situations.
With the seminal event of the campaign – the Van Meter Mayoral debate – fast approaching, Lance has been meeting extensively with his policy team. Lance’s neighbour, a French-Canadian centrist named Tailleplus, is his lead policy wonk and debate-prep specialist. Lance works with Tailleplus to speedily formulate powerful responses to difficult questions, enabling him to field them more gracefully than his opponents.
Tailleplus’ coverage of the policy issues enables Lance to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of his competitors. The aforementioned Williams is much weaker this time around – seemingly unwilling to recognize that he is down so far in the polls that it may be time for him to retool and focus on future elections. Another weak candidate, Bob Waters, is known for running campaigns on a shoe-string budget, often attending and sending his identical twin brother Dylan to concurrent political events in an effort to boost his recognition. Perennial last-place candidate Brett Regal barely warrants mentioning. The real competition and perceived front-runner is a wealthy and ubiquitous Italian known simply as “Little Caesar”. Caesar, always a big spender, has broken the bank this campaign and brought in two noted political operatives from Miami: an advertising specialist named Joyce Harris (albeit with more flash than substance) and Manuel Estrada, one of the most powerful, young campaigners in the entire country.
Lance’s pollster, Alan Cochran, is a number-cruncher of the highest order. Among the pages and pages of data that Cochran has gathered and broken down into all conceivable demographic sub-groups is one glaring trend: Lance is weak on the out-skirts of Van Meter. This is strange, of course, because voters outside of the town’s core are typically easier to sway than are those in the middle. Of the districts in the town’s core, Lance is dominant in the 8th district, the 2nd district (his home district) and average or better in the 4th and 6th districts. So dominant in those difficult campaigning areas in the town-centre is Lance that he is competitive despite relatively poor polling numbers in the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th districts, which are bases of considerable power for some of the other candidates. Getting better numbers in those districts is theoretically easy to do, but the otherwise adept Cochran seems to be unable to manage it, generally. The exception to Lance’s inside-out pattern of support is the 10th district. The 10th district is Lance’s power base, owing to an intensive campaign undertaken by his team to woo the voters of the overwhelmingly Democratic district – Project Donkey, they jokingly called it.
Lance Veld’s time is now. He’s been on the cusp of victory for years, his campaign team is solid, his polling numbers are good, and he’s probably better than Little Caesar. He can win this election – and he better, because DeeDee could leave at anytime, the effects of Project Donkey are already diminishing, and Lance himself isn’t getting any younger.