Champagne Velvet

by Con Chapman

"I heard this story, I don't know if it's true,” the campaign manager said as they waited for the returns to come in from the more rural counties. “About Bagley.”

“The son?” the advance man, who was younger, asked.

“Naw, the old man. He was in a tight race. He'd been appointed to the seat when Morris Stark died, so he'd never won it before.”

“Who was he up against?”

“Virgil Green. Solid guy, he'd been mayor of Sedville and people thought he was ready to go higher.”

They both looked up at the door where a delivery man had arrived with several tubs of chicken and sides. “Somebody pay him, would you,” the campaign manager yelled across the room.

“So what happened?”

“Well, Green was clean, so he had that going for him—‘Clean Green' was what they called him and the big papers in the district got behind him. Bagley'd been under suspicion as to how he got water out to his place in Green Ridge. Everybody else had to dig a well, he got pipe laid by the city so he had the only irrigated farm in the county. He said they needed it out his way in case they ever put in sewer, but hell—it'll be a hundred years before that ever happens.”

“Must have made his place pretty valuable.”

“Sure did. Well, some reporter started nosing around and found out that Bagley and his family had given the mayor a lot of money.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” the advance man said.

“Yeah, but then he found out some of the workers at his bottling company had given a lot of money too, so he got suspicious.”

“How come?”

“They were pretty big checks for guys who drove delivery trucks or worked on a loading dock. So he ran with the story and everybody came to the obvious conclusion.”

“What was that?”

The campaign manager looked at the younger man with a quizzical expression on his face, as if to make sure the fellow was serious.

“That Bagley'd been writing the checks himself, or reimbursing his workers—with a little something extra.”

“Oh. So did they ever prove anything?”

“No. Bagley called all his employees in as soon as he got wind of the story and told them if they knew what was good for them they'd dummy up. And he'd make it worth their while.”

“I see,” the kid said, but the campaign manager wasn't sure his subordinate had achieved actual political knowledge, as opposed to merely correct belief.

“So anyway, Bagley was nowhere near where he needed to be going into the last weekend. As an incumbent he should have been up five, six points. The last poll he took showed it was a dead heat, within the margin of error.”

“So what'd he do?”

“Well, it was candidate's night at the county courthouse in Sedville. All the candidates for office would go up against their opponents, mini-Lincoln-Douglas style.”

“How's that work?”

“You flip a coin and the winner decides whether he wants to go first for six minutes, or second for nine.”

“That's not fair.”

“I wasn't finished. If you go first you get a three-minute rejoinder, so it's equal.”

“That sounds pretty tame.”

“It probably would have been, except Bagley knew he was gonna lose. Green was smooth, calm, articulate—everything Bagley was not.”

“What'd he do?”

“His bottling plant was down on Main Street, down beyond where the stores were, so starting to get pretty raggedy. You know that area?”


“Well, there's always a fair number of bums down there. Guys looking for their next drink, wondering how the hell they're going to pay for it.”


“So he rounds up three of them and tells them he's going to buy them a case of beer if they'll do a little job for him. All they have to do is ride around in a car for his campaign. Of course they all said yes.”

The advance man snickered at the unfolding plot, although he hadn't figured it out yet.

“Then he asks one of the men who worked for him—a guy nicknamed ‘Zip' with a gold front tooth that he popped in and out—to go down to the drive-in liquor store and get a case of beer. He can knock off for the night, Bagley just wants him to chauffer these guys around.”

“Where to?”

“I'm getting to that. So he gives Zip $25—Bagley figures it'll cost a little over $20 and thinks he's being a big spender letting Zip keep the change. Well, Zip wants to make a little money on the deal, so when he gets down to the store he asks what's the cheapest beer you got? And they guy says Champagne Velvet, $16.99 a case. So Zip gets a case of that and drives back to the plant.

“When he gets back Bagley has four big ‘Green for Congress' signs that he ties and tapes to the car and has the three bums get in. He tells Zip to drive them around the town square until they finish the beer or pass out.”

The young man laughed out loud now.

“And he tells Zip ‘I'll give you $20 to honk real loud after that guy Green finishes.”

“So what happened?”

“Just what you'd expect. You got a carful of drunk black guys riding in a red convertible T-Bird—everybody's lookin' at them. Zip's sober so they can't arrest him and can't stop the car. They drive real slow around the town square, honking and waving to beat the band.”

The pollster brought over a bucket of chicken and offered them some. The campaign manager waved him away—“Not at this hour of the night”—but the kid dug in.

“How were the speeches?”

“Well, Green won the toss and decided to go first. Zip leaned on the horn as they introduced him to polite applause. Everybody turned around to look and the winos started to chant ‘Let's go Green, let's go Green!' Green gave them a sick little smile, then he began.”

“What were the issues?”

“The usual. Taxes, national defense, how much pork you could bring back to the district. After he'd finished his six minutes, Green said thanks and Zip's car erupted like it was the second coming. They yelled and screamed and Zip honked the horn, blast after blast. When Green sat down he looked like he'd eaten a bad piece of fish.”

“And Bagley?”

“Well, he gets up there and waits for the crowd to settle down after a little smattering of applause. Then he starts in real soft-like, saying he represented the good people of the district. The hard-working people. The ones who didn't have time to go gallivanting around, partying on a Sunday night. Then he paused to let it sink in.

“'My opponent,' he says, ‘represents everything that's wrong in the direction America's headed. A people dependent on government, who want to take your hard-earned money, the bread off your family's table, to support their indolent lifestyle.”

“And . . . did they buy it?”

“They were eating it out of his hand. ‘Lifestyle,' he sneered. ‘I don't have the time or the money for a lifestyle, and I suspect you don't either. We get up in the morning, get in our work clothes, eat breakfast and go off to our jobs. To make money the old-fashioned way, by hard work. Not a government handout. We don't have lifestyles,' he said. ‘We have families—children. If there's a God in heaven who looks out for the United States of America, we're the future of this great nation, not Mr. Green and his supporters.”

The kid was silent for a moment, his face a picture of grudging admiration for someone he'd always heard represented the worst in politics; a fat old white man with more money than he'd ever be able to spend.

“Did he win?” he asked.

“I think you know the answer. He held that seat for ten years, five more terms. Then he handed it over to his son. The family bought a home in Virginia where they kept horses. They didn't come back here unless it was election time for the most part. Sometimes he'd show up for the State Fair. Sold his business, leased out the farm, had his mail forwarded.”

The gall of the stratagem appealed to and repelled the young man at the same time. He let go an emphatic little exhale, a mixture of amusement and contempt.

“So that's politics for you, son,” the campaign manager said as he got up to go get a soda. “Sooner you figure that out, the better off you'll be.”