Journalists and commentators, including Gwen Ifill and Pat Buchanan, nominate their favorite campaign-related fare
Gwen Ifill, moderator of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "PBS Newshour"
I stumbled upon "The Best Man" with Henry Fonda & Cliff Robertson by accident late one night. I loved how it captured political conventions -- in front of and behind the scenes -- the way we imagine them to be. "The Candidate" with Robert Redford is another favorite. It captures the serendipity of politics very nicely -- especially how something can be made from nothing. And "Election" with Reese Witherspoon was unexpected -- mean and wry and funny -- just like grownup politics can be.
David Sirota, Salon contributor and radio talk show host
"Primary Colors": As opposed to the Joe Klein book (which is prosaic and rather boring), the 1998 film does a fantastic job of satirizing the life of a typical big-time election campaign. Through facial expressions, body language and voice inflection, John Travolta brings to life the cartoon character that is almost every politician running for a major office -- and he does it in a way that rides the fine line between conventional humor and "Saturday Night Live"-style parody.
To know "Primary Colors" is a work of genius is to appreciate that it would have probably been just as big a hit even if fictional Gov. Jack Stanton's inspiration -- Bill Clinton -- had never been president. That's because the characters are archetypal (although, somehow, not entirely cliche). Indeed, the only film-based comedic fiction that comes even close to achieving such biting political satire is 2009's "In the Loop," but because of that story's setting, it never captures the unique idiosyncracies of campaign life that "Primary Colors" does.
Michael Kinsley, editor and columnist for Bloomberg View
"His Girl Friday" is mainly about journalism, of course, but there's an election (for sheriff and mayor) in the plot and in the background. Joe Klein's novel "Primary Colors" was remarkably good, and the movie version is underrated.
Andrew Gelman, political scientist and statistician
My favorite is that Bugs Bunny episode where he and Yosemite Sam are running for mayor ["Ballot Box Bunny"]. The campaign features an exploding cigar, an exploding watermelon, and a cannon fired into Bugs Bunny Headquarters. The high point for me is the scene where Sam sets up a piano to explode but Bugs stubbornly refuses to strike the rigged key. "No, that's not it. Try it again! Ooh, ya stupid rabbit! Like this" . . . BANG! It concludes with them both losing to a horse. They probably would've done better if they'd followed some of the dirty tricks described with such relish by Boston mayor James Michael Curley in his autobiography "I'd Do It Again" or with more accuracy in Jack Beatty's biography "The Rascal King."
Jonathan Bernstein, author of "A plain blog about politics"
"The Great McGinty." It's not as good as some of the later Preston Sturges movies (including the excellent election-themed "Hail the Conquering Hero!" and the very political classic "Sullivan's Travels"), but it's a lot of fun nonetheless, and this comic examination of political ethics represents the path not taken in American movies and, perhaps, American political culture: How would we think of politics without the influence of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"?
Ana Marie Cox, U.S. political blogger for the Guardian
"The Gay Place," by Billy Lee Brammer. It doesn't pertain to an election per se, but it is all about staying elected. A collection of three novellas loosely based on Brammer's tenure as an aide to LBJ, it captures the spirit (and spirits) of lawmaking and lawkeeping. For anyone who has spent time working or reporting in a capital (Brammer's is Austin, Tex.), the boozy parties to the casual affairs to owing and spending of favors will ring true. And if you've spent time in Austin, the evocation of its easily-worn hospitality, its blissful landscape and its careless happiness (spun out at the Driskill Hotel and Scholz beer garden) will make you homesick.
Evan Cornog, author of "Hats in the Ring: An Illustrated History of American Presidential Campaigns"
Charles Foster Kane's campaign for governor in "Citizen Kane" -- the exposure of his affair with Susan Alexander and the newspaper headline that exposes the affair and puts quotes around her identification as a "singer." As the Joseph Cotten character, Jedidiah, says, Kane spent the rest of his life trying to take away the quotes around "singer." I think it beautifully conveys the vulnerabilities that even the mightiest have.
Pat Buchanan, political commentator and former presidential advisor
The 1968 Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace campaign. I was with Richard Nixon from start to finish. The day we flew to New Hampshire, the Tet Offensive began. George Romney dropped out within weeks. McCarthy got 42% against LBJ, a write-in, and suddenly Bobby Kennedy was in. Two weeks later, LBJ gave up the presidency. Four days later, Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots broke out in 100 cities. Troops patrolling the capital. Then the takeover of Columbia campus by radicals led by Mark Rudd. Saw Robert Kennedy concede defeat at Benson Hotel in Portland. A week later, he was assassinated. Was in the Conrad Hilton at 1968 Democratic Convention watching the police attack demonstrators in Grant Park with Norman Mailer. There followed the Humphrey surge of October, the dead-head election, Nixon's victory, and the White House. A year of tragedies that permanently sundered the nation. It was not entertainment. It was history.