Swing Vote marries mild satire with Capra-esque melodrama in a formula that works surprisingly well. The film also avoids preaching and, for a movie about politics, is careful not to take one side or the other. The movie is neither anti-Democrat nor anti-Republican. While one could argue that parts of the movie sound a little like a high school civics lesson, those segments are small. Certainly, if Swing Vote has a message, it's that "every vote counts," but it also has quite a bit to say about what both parties will do to get that vote.
The set-up is contrived, but it does what it needs to do to get the main thrust of the story underway. Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a single father living in a trailer in a small New Mexico town. He devotes his days to working at an egg packing plant and spends his evenings at the local watering hole. He has sole custody of a daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), but that's mainly because her mother is an even less fit parent than he is. Molly, who is bright and civic-minded, demands that her father participate in the Presidential election between Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democrat challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper). Instead of meeting Molly at the polling place, however, a drunk Bud collapses in the front seat of his truck. Molly, taking advantage of lax security, sneaks in to vote in her father's stead but a malfunction of the voting apparatus causes the vote not to be counted. This might not ordinarily be a big deal, but the election turns out to be razor-thin, with the winner of New Mexico's five electoral votes going to the White House, and Bud's single vote will determine which way New Mexico leans. When his identity is leaked to the press, Bud ends up at the center of a maelstrom of publicity and becomes the target of media campaigns by both Boone and Greenleaf.
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