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Way back in one of the pulp science fiction magazines (probably If or Galaxy circa 1950-1970 but could have been a more obscure one), there was this short story about someone running for President. The story was told through a series of memoranda between the candidate and the advertising firm. The basic plot was that they'd only refer to the candidate as "The Candidate" both in the ads and on the ballot. I remember at one point they were copying popular commercials, one about a football team that led to a teamwork themed slogan. Several ordinary-looking people - one was an old woman - were selected by the advertising firm to speak for the candidate. There was also a faked assassination attempt to "explain" why the candidate remained anonymous.

Although it's old news now, the idea of the media fabricating a candidate and controlling a major election was science fiction when the story was written/published.

Any idea what story this was or who the author was?

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    Was there a sci-fi/fantasy angle or element to the story? The description you wrote doesn't make it sound like there is. If not, this is off-topic for this site. – phantom42 Jan 9 '15 at 18:51
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    I have serious concerns about the election system in this world, where apparently just having the same name as an elected official allows you to take their place. I guess if I had changed my name to "Barack Obama" back in 2008, I'd be President now. – KSmarts Jan 9 '15 at 19:12
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it does not contain any sci-fi or fantasy elements as currently written. – Stan Jan 9 '15 at 19:23
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    @Stan: The story is about the impact of mass media (technology) on society, particularly politics. It still works as science fiction today, since it concerns a totally fictitious political candidate created solely by a media firm. – Joe L. Jan 9 '15 at 23:37
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    My copy of the book is packed away right now. As I recall, the SF element is probably a 20 minutes into the future extrapolation of media's ability to influence public opinion. I'll add the story has an ISFDB entry, and refer to #1 and #5 at meta.scifi.stackexchange.com/a/344/4318. – Kenster Jan 9 '15 at 23:53
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I believe you're looking for "The People's Choice" by William John Watkins. According to IFSDB, it was first published in 1974 in a pulp magazine called Worlds of If. In 1980 it was republished in Space Mail Volume II, an anthology which focused on SF stories written in the form of letters, journals, and the like.

The best description of the story that I could find online is part of a review of Space Mail II here:

An ad man is given a challenge. Given unlimited funds, can he make a short, fat, ugly woman President of the United States. Throughout the campaign the candidate is never seen. The slogan is “Vote For The Candidate Nobody Knows.” Looks like it’s working.

Like you said, the ad man builds a campaign where the candidate is never identified. Instead, a group of everyday, salt-of-the-earth types are featured with the idea that the candidate could be any of them.

As I recall, the campaign is hugely successful, and the candidate wins. The campaign manager is faced with the prospect of finally having to reveal the candidate to the nation. There's an assassination attempt--I don't remember if it was real or not--and it's announced the candidate would never reveal her identity and would hold office anonymously.

The June 1974 issue of Worlds of IF is freely available on the Internet Archive; "The People's Choice" starts at page 143.

  • That sounds like the correct story. – Joe L. Jan 10 '15 at 4:05
  • I think this is the correct answer. I'm going to try and find a copy of it now. I definitely had that specific issue of "Worlds of If" as I remember the cover. Thanks! – Jistanidiot Jan 10 '15 at 4:21

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