CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE?


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The Film


A young man in a T-shirt and shorts holds up campaign signs for Jeff Smith. Inset: Video icon link

"He asked me what his odds would be of winning, and I told him zilch." (1:29) Watch video

In an inner city school hallway, Jeff Smith addresses a row of children  Inset: Video icon link

"I became more and more intrigued with this Jeff Smith character—without the political baggage, without political connections who had the audacity to think that he could take this seat." (1:33)
Watch video

A small group of men discuss the campaign race around a table with coffee cups and papers

"They’re initially not covering our race because they want us to purchase ads. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard." (2:01) Watch video

Jeff Smith, smiling, holds a up a baby girl for the camera

He said, ‘I’m going to run for Dick Gephardt’s spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.’ And I said, ‘What? Are you nuts?’
—Steve Smith, Jeff Smith’s father

When Jeff Smith, a 29-year-old part-time political science instructor, decided to run for Congress, his friends and family members thought he was joking. “I don’t think a person with the mind that he has should waste it on politics,” quipped his grandmother, Ida. But as the race to replace former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt heats up, Smith mobilizes an army of nearly 500 volunteers in a grassroots campaign that is low on funds but big on passion, threatening to shake up Missouri state politics. CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE? follows the Smith campaign in the months leading up to the election, charting this political underdog’s efforts against the leading candidate, State Representative Russ Carnahan, the scion of Missouri's most powerful political dynasty.

The odds against Jeff Smith are overwhelming. He starts with no money, no political base and no name recognition. His staff is a hodge-podge of political nobodies with little campaign experience. Smith’s opponent Russ Carnahan's record is thin, his public performances are weak, and his campaign is uninspired. Yet, his family's strong establishment ties provide him fundraising connections and name recognition. As one political analyst comments in the film, "The Carnahan name is to Missouri what the Kennedy name is to Massachusetts.”

But while Carnahan persists as the race’s early front-runner, Smith ultimately poses a serious challenge, despite humble beginnings and constant resistance from the political establishment, voters, the media and even his own family. Will conventional wisdom—that powerful incumbents are unbeatable—be proven wrong?

Offering an unvarnished look at the inside of what national pundits called one of 2004's surprising campaigns, CAN MR. SMITH GET TO WASHINGTON ANYMORE? demonstrates that it is still possible in America for voters to get excited by a person's ideas and ability to get involved in the political process. While candidates with access to power and money have significant advantages over their contenders, the film questions the way Americans elect political leaders, showing what confronts fresh political faces—with new ideas and passionate supporters—when they go head-to-head against an established political system.

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