Open Eye: Behind The Scenes In The Battle For A Seat In Congress

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The Battle for Congress is a two part documentary on BBC2 recording the back-room strategies, the spins and thrusts that were at the heart of a fiercely-fought battle for a seat in Congress in the autumn of 1998.

The programmes, to be shown on the evenings of 7 and 14 April, provide an unrivalled insight into American political culture, and probe the role of TV in the quest for victory.

British director Ann Parisio negotiated unique access into the war rooms of both the Democrat and Republican camps in the Santa Barbara district of California. Her film reveals how a modern election campaign is won and lost. It also gives a new insight into the cultural wars that have racked America since the Republicans took control of Congress, and launched their assault on Clinton.

The candidates are very different. On one side stands Lois Capps, the incumbent and a modern Democrat. She is a waspish 60-year-old former nurse and mother of three. Although she entered politics only a year ago when her husband died of a heart attack while in office, Lois runs a mean team who are mostly women.

There's plenty of cash in her coffers and a huge team of volunteers hitting the phones. Also aboard is Cathy Duvall, her crafty campaign manager.

On the other side is Tom Bordonaro, 39 years old and severely disabled from a car accident that put him in a wheelchair from the age of 18. He's a plain-speaking rancher who enjoys the war games of politics. His team are short of cash, strong on John Wayne - and nobody seems to know what goes on in the head of his manager.

It's men versus women, disabled versus abled and liberal Democrat versus fundamentalist Republican. Tom uses his quick wits and affability to play down his fundamentalist politics and play himself up as a compassionate conservative. Will his cover hold, and can he find a way to use the Clinton/Lewinski scandal to blacken Lois's name?

The Battle for Congress homes in on the TV ads both candidates use to influence the voters, and to reach out to their support in this huge district. Which ad is going to land the killer blow, and who has the real know-how when it comes to plotting the trajectory of the next negative ad? This two-part series chronicles the ebb and flow of the battle right up to election night.

The programme is produced by the BBC for the Open University's Social Sciences Faculty. Ann Parisio's last documentary, Mummy's Boys, was recently transmitted in the Cutting Edge series by Channel 4.

The Battle for Congress will be broadcast on BBC2 at 11.20 pm on Wednesday 7 April and Wednesday 14 April.