As Leo McGarry Dies, Chicago Tribune Endorses Matt Santos For President

John SpencerJohn Spencer, the actor who played White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry in the television series The West Wing, has died of a heart attack, aged 58.

His death comes on the same day that the Chicago Tribune newspaper has published an editorial supporting the election of the fictional Democratic Party candidate, Matt Santos.

Spencer’s character is the vice-presidential running mate to Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) in the current Season 7 of The West Wing, although many Australian fans of the series will be unaware of this because those bastards at Channel 9 stopped showing the program mid-way through Season 5.

Since the current season is only half-completed, Spencer’s death will throw the television show into turmoil. Leo McGarry will be written out and Santos will have to choose a new running mate.

In a curious merging of fantasy and reality, the Chicago Tribune has published a light-hearted editorial endorsing Santos for president. The paper was responding to a comment by John Spencer’s character in an episode which attributed increasing electoral support for Santos to an editorial in the “Trib”.

The Tribune is the paper made famous in 1948 when it incorrectly proclaimed that the Republican Thomas Dewey had defeated the Democrat President Harry Truman.

Text of the editorial from the Chicago Tribune, Friday December 16, 2005.

Chicago Tribune

Matthew V. Santos for president

Over the decades, readers have come to expect consistency from Chicago Tribune endorsements in presidential elections. That has delighted some people and infuriated others. After we backed the re-election of George W. Bush last year, one irate letter writer complained that Mickey Mouse would get the Tribune endorsement if he were the Republican candidate for president.

That’s a little harsh, but it has been a spell since we favored a Democratic presidential contender–Horace Greeley over Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. (We also endorsed Teddy Roosevelt, then of the Bull Moose Party, in 1912.)

Finally, though, we have another Democrat who leads us to cast tradition to the winds.

The Tribune urges the election of Democrat Matthew V. Santos as president of the United States.

OK, so maybe there really isn’t an imminent election and maybe there really isn’t a Matthew V. Santos. But we have endorsed him, anyway. Sort of. An explanation is in order.

Fans of “The West Wing,” the long-running NBC series that dramatizes life behind the scenes at the White House, have been glued to a plot line this season about the campaign to succeed fictional two-term incumbent Jed Bartlet. It pits Democrat Santos, a congressman, against Republican Sen. Arnold Vinick.

Santos has been the underdog. But in last Sunday’s episode, new polls showed he was pulling within striking distance of Vinick. The Santos camp was especially heartened by results from Illinois, where the candidate had cut a 9-point deficit down to 4. Santos credited the surge to his Chicago Tribune endorsement.

“It’s gotta be the Trib,” declared Santos’ running mate, Leo McGarry.

“The West Wing” has earned praise for realistic portrayals of the policy debates and political intrigue of Washington. It may have strayed a little with Sunday’s show. Everybody knows Illinois has been such a “blue” state in recent years that Republican presidential candidates write it off.

But thanks for the credit, “West Wing” script writers. We didn’t actually do anything. But if we had, here’s a rare peek into the super-secret endorsement deliberations at the Tribune editorial board:

The Vinick character may be a moderate Republican. But he reminds us an awful lot of Alan Alda, the ex-“M*A*S*H” star linked to just about every touchy-feely cause imaginable.

Meanwhile, Santos looks a lot like actor Jimmy Smits, who for years played police detective Bobby Simone on “NYPD Blue.” Simone was strength and compassion incarnate.

So at gut check time, Democrat Santos became our easy pick for the endorsement.

In our humble opinion, it was the biggest moment in the history of imaginary news since 1948, when a Midwestern newspaper–memory fails us as to which one–reported that Thomas E. Dewey had defeated President Harry Truman.

Dewey Defeats Truman

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