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A deadly end to 'West Wing' story

October 24, 2002

The latest twist to the "West Wing" Orange County Congressional

district tale was a deadly one. Following a fourth heart attack, the

fictional underdog Democratic challenger to the "47th" district died,

viewers of last week's show learned.

Happily for those wanting a choice come Nov. 5, life has not

imitated art in any way. John Graham, the Democratic challenger in

the newly aligned 48th Congressional District, which includes Newport

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Beach, Irvine, Laguna Beach and significant portions of south Orange

County, is alive and -- running.

For this campaign, Graham, who unsuccessfully faced off against

incumbent Chris Cox in 2000, is running down the district's beaches,

from West Newport to San Juan Capistrano. All the while, he's taking

water samples and trusting that the exercise will keep him from the

fate of his fictional counterpart.

Still, there's one fate both will all but assuredly share: They

aren't going to get elected. And that predestined outcome is at the

heart of the political point made on the show, that "longshot"

candidates don't get support from their parties.

Being the "underdog," in other words, dooms a candidate to being

underfunded and fighting for any support.

It's a battle Graham is facing for the second time.

"You describe it as a longshot, and that's exactly how I describe

it," Graham said, noting that political money tends to leave Orange

County, not come into it.

His hope, he said, is to reach independent and "decline to state"

voters who, combined with Democrats in the district, form just about

an even balance with Republicans. "It's a tough sell," he said.

That difficulty is illustrated by a greater breakdown of the

numbers. Laguna Woods has the highest number of registered Democrats,

Graham points out, at 42%.

The number of Republicans there? 45%.

Laguna Beach, which certainly feels like the most liberal city

around, has 36% registered Democrats. But there's 42% Republicans.

"It's the worst in the state," Graham said.

That "worst," of course, is "best" in Graham's opponent's eye. But

you won't hear him describing the "West Wing" that way.

Cox, who half-jokingly pointed to the NBC series as proof that

campaign finance restrictions can be skirted in any number of ways --

"I wouldn't vote for President Bartlett" -- admits to having seen the

show only once. And even then, he said, given its liberal bent, which

is only balanced by "straw men" and abhorrent "Republican" views, he

couldn't sit through the whole thing.

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