Vote For Me

1996, 4 hours, produced and directed by Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker and Paul Stekler
Comprising dozens of stories that help illuminate the excitement, contradictions, and the occasional glories of the American way of politics, this entertaining and revealing Peabody Award-winning series travels across the country to show us how politics is really played in the U.S.

Winner of the George Foster Peabody Award and the Silver Baton, Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award

What is it like to actually run for office? To organize campaigns? To get out the vote? To produce negative ads? To build legislative coalitions? All this and more is part of Vote for Me: Politics in America, the Peabody Award-winning four-hour public TV series that travels across the country to show us how politics is really played in the U.S. Entertaining, funny, and full of revealing behind-the-scenes moments, Vote for Me is the perfect way for students of American politics to understand the campaign and election process, from the smallest precincts all to the way to the White House.

As one Oklahoma party leader puts it, "politics is show business for ugly people", and Vote for Me revels in the things candidates and their campaigns have to do in order to get the magic "50% plus one". There are the rival training sessions, one for the Christian Coalition, the other for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, each teaching the same nuts and bolts techniques. There is the Hawaiian campaigning tradition of "sign waving" on busy street corners, and the 29-hour California bus-trip photo-op marathon mounted by a desperate gubernatorial candidate. This is American politics with a human face, as the viewer experiences what it's like to play the great game that determines who will lead us.

Here are some of the many revealing sequences included in Vote for Me:

  • "The King Of Retail", a portrait of the master of person-to-person campaigning, Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci.
  • "The Terminator", featuring New York "attack-dog" consultant Hank Sheinkopf as he crafts, and defends, negative political advertising in a Supreme Court race in Alabama. To place negative ads in historical context, Vote for Me also imagines what a slasher ad would have been like in the 1800 campaign between Adams and Jefferson, using verbatim insults from campaign literature of the time.
  • "Change Partners and Dance", the tough, revealing story of changing ethnic coalitions in Chicago, from the "rainbow coalition" of the late Harold Washington to the white ethnic/Mexican-American alliance of Mayor Richard M. Daley.
  • "The Political Education of Maggie Lauterer", a remarkable 90-minute behind-the-scenes look at what it really takes to run for office in America. First-time-candidate from North Carolina Maggie Lauterer decides to run for Congress and has to learn how to beg for money on the phone, how to come up with 30-second policy soundbites, and how to try to run a clean campaign in the face of withering negative attacks on her character - and we the viewers learn along with her, sharing her exhilaration and her setbacks.

Mix these and other compelling stories with witty and incisive commentary from Mario Cuomo, Newt Gingrich, Willie Brown, Lyn Nofziger, and other less-celebrated political animals, revealing people-on-the-street interviews, and a wealth of footage capturing American politicians being themselves, and you have a stunning, anti-cynical portrait of the American political system that the San Francisco Chronicle called "one of the year's ten best TV shows: a kaleidoscopic, heartening and sometimes hilarious look at the vitality of grass-roots politics in America."

An ideal teaching tool, easy to program

Vote for Me is easy to use in the classroom because it is entirely modular. Each of its four major parts is divided into a number of separate, stand-alone stories, allowing the instructor to tailor viewings to curriculum and class length. From in-depth, behind-the-scenes stories to lucid overviews, Vote for Me will engage even the most cynical viewers with its mix of humor and humanity.

Vote for Me - Politics in America was supported by grants from The CIT Group, Inc, The Ford Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, PBS/CPB.

A production of The Center for New American Media, Midnight Films, and WETA, Washington DC.