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Four Days in Denver


Illustrations by Dan Goldman  

The Democratic Party is closer than it’s ever been to a political nightmare—a deadlocked convention. Though the odds of its actually happening are still remote, the idea is so rich with dramatic possibility that we asked Lawrence O’Donnell Jr., former West Wing writer-producer, to play out a scenario in movie-treatment form. The premise is that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton arrive in Denver, neither having sufficient delegates to gain the nomination nor a decisive majority in the popular vote. And so it’s on…

FROM THE BLACK, we hear noises, confusing sounds. Grunting? Groaning? Sex? A massage? A workout? Weight lifting? fade in on: Skin. Sweaty skin.

A buttock? Male, female? Muscular. Hair. More hair. Definitely male. REVEAL hard-core gay sex scene between a flawless blond bodybuilder-hooker and a bald, middle-aged 300-pound man. A cell phone rings. The fat man reaches for it, hits a button to stop the ringing. Back to sex. A hotel phone starts ringing. And ringing. And ringing. The fat man picks it up and hangs up to stop the ringing. It rings again immediately. The fat man tries the same trick. And it rings again immediately. Finally, the phone wins. As the fat man talks on the phone, the hooker continues to do his job.

Fat man: Yeah … Harold, can I call you ba— … Uh-huh … I still haven’t deci— … This really isn’t a good time for— … Please. I have to— … I just— … I need— … (Desperate to get back to sex, gives up.) Okay … Yes, I’m saying yes … No, you can’t announce it yet … I’m giving you my word … I’ve got to hang up now … Okay. (Hangs up.)
Hooker (looking up from his work): Are you a superdelegate?

Harold Ickes hanging up the phone in his hotel suite, the Clinton delegate-counting center.

Ickes: Hey, I just got the lieutenant governor of—
Howard Wolfson: Have you seen Gore? (Grabs a remote, flips on CNN’s live coverage of Al Gore arriving at Denver airport.)
Ickes (shocked): Holy shit!
Wolfson: He’s lost, what, 30 pounds?
Ickes (still can’t believe his eyes): He looks like …
Wolfson: A fucking candidate!

Al Gore passes through a hotel lobby and is swarmed by fans and delegates. The fat man from the sex scene fights his way close to Gore. A Gore aide whispers the fat man’s name to Gore.

Fat man: Hey, Al, remember me? I’m the lieutenant govern—
Gore: Hey, Pete, great to see you. Are you committed?
Fat man: Well, actually, I just said yes to Hillary, but if you throw your hat in the—
Gore: Hey, I’m just here to help any way I can.
Fat man: You look just unbelievable.

Brian Williams sets the table with his solemn intro to NBC’s coverage: The pledged delegate score is Obama 1,688, Clinton 1,539; Obama holds a slim popular-vote lead of 1.5 percent with 30 million votes cast; 263 superdelegates remain uncommitted. Anything can happen.

Howard Dean opens the convention and gets booed off the stage. The delegates hold him responsible for the mess they’re in. Dean grabs Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as he rushes out of the convention hall. Dean tells them they’ve gotta figure out a way to stop the bleeding tonight. Dean, Reid, and Pelosi get heckled by passing delegates as Obama Girl happily signs autographs in the background.

Midnight. Dean’s suite. Party leadership meets. Where’s Gore? He said he’d be here. Someone points to a TV.

Gore (on CNN): No, Anderson, I’m not here as a candidate. I’m just trying to be helpful in any way I can.

The leadership considers going to Hillary and telling her it’s time to drop out. They all know there will be blood if they do that. Someone suggests trying to get Barack to drop out.

Reid: Barack sure is a lot easier to talk to.
Pelosi: Are we really gonna ask him to drop out just because he’s easier to talk to?

They screw up the courage to go to Hillary. They all agree they have to have Gore onboard and they have to enlist at least one of Hillary’s most committed superdelegates to join them.

Reid tries to get Chuck Schumer to join the talk-to-Hillary delegation. Impossible. She would see it as betrayal, pure and simple, and then Schumer couldn’t possibly live with her in the Senate for the rest of their careers.

High noon. A series of black sedans pull up to the loading dock of a hotel. Dean gets out of one and enters the building, then Reid gets out of another, then Joe Biden, then Robert Byrd, Max Baucus, Steny Hoyer, Ed Markey, Henry Waxman—all high-profile undecided superdelegates.

Clinton suite. The party heavyweights are gathered. Bill Clinton, in golf clothes, kills time with them—joshing, getting them coffee—while they wait for Hillary. Bill notices Pelosi isn’t there and is assured she’s on the way. Pelosi enters, with Charlie Rangel trailing. Bill acts unsurprised.

Bill: Hey, Charlie, how ya doin’? I was wondering who they were gonna pick off from our team.
Rangel: Mr. President, this is very difficult for me. You know I—
Bill (dismissive): Sure, Charlie. (to group) Everyone here?
Dean: I think we’re waiting for one more.
Bill: Hope you don’t mean Gore?
Dean: Yeah.
Bill: Forget it. (beat) Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hiding him somewhere, I just know Al a bit better than you do. I bet he’s on TV right now. (Grabs the remote and starts flipping channels—CNN, no. Fox, no. MSNBC, no. CNBC, no. ABC, bingo. There’s Gore yukking it up with Barbara and Whoopi on The View, broadcasting live from Denver.) Look at him, working Hillary’s demo. You actually think Al would help y’all try to get the nomination for someone else? You have any idea how hard it is to lose that kinda weight? He didn’t do that just to go on The View.
Dean & Co. share a worried look.
Bill: Al’s hoping this thing goes two or three ballots, then you guys call him in from the bull pen. (beat, icily.) And, ’course, Al ain’t got it in him to walk through that door and try to tell me what to do about anything.


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