Every election season, I revisit R.J. Cutler and David Van Taylor’s revealing 1996 documentary A Perfect Candidate. The setting is the 1994 Virginia Senate race between incumbent Chuck Robb and challenger Oliver North, which one voter likens to a choice between “the flu and the mumps”. The principal players in the movie are Washington Post report Don Baker and North’s campaign manager Mark Goodin (a Lee Atwater mentee). Their candor and insight are nothing less than disturbing, as this set of clips with Goodin shows.
As the movie unfolds, both campaigns lurch from the trivial to the ugly, and no one comes out looking very good at the end. The fact that the outcome of the election is known in advance by the audience does nothing to limit the fascination this movie generates as it documents how campaigns operate. There is nothing inspiring here about the electoral process, unless it is to inspire us to change it. But that’s why A Perfect Candidate is an outstanding documentary: It shows life unvarnished and in an emotionally compelling way. It’s a raw, remarkable must-see film for political junkies and for anyone who wonders why we get the candidates we do in our elections.