When the President of the United States dies, vice-president Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) ...
When the President of the United States dies, vice-president Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) becomes his successor. Now the newly appointed head of state must appoint a new vice-president, and a Virginian democrat named Jack Hathaway (William Petersen) is his expected nominee. Governor Hathaway, a politician with an uncanny resemblance to real-life senator Ted Kennedy, recently made headlines after making a heroic, though failed attempt to rescue a drowning woman from her sunken vehicle. Despite traditional party partisanship, Hathaway has earned the support of republican representative Sheldon Runyon (Gary Oldman), who will go to any length to ensure the governor's success. Evans has other plans however. With the end of his term slowly approaching the president hopes to create a legacy for himself, and believes that appointing the country's first female vice-president is a guaranteed way of doing so. Ohioan senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) is an ideal candidate, a republican turned democrat whose association with both parties may help the president overcome partisan politics. This infuriates Runyon who begins an Internet muckraking campaign against Hanson, eventually unearthing scandalous photos from the senator's college years. The pictures, which depict Hanson in what appears to be a sexual act, give Runyon an opportunity to attack the senator's pro-abortion stance and its perceived immorality. Although the president, his advisors, and Hanson's friends and colleagues pressure her to address Runyon's accusations she refuses, reiterating that no individual's private life should be a topic open for political debate. Meanwhile Runyon and his cronies falsely insinuate that the senator had once engaged in prostitution, and reveal that she began dating her husband, William (Robin Thomas) while he was still wedded to another woman. In a scenario strikingly reminiscent of Bill Clinton's so-called 'Monicagate,' Hanson appears before the House Judiciary Committee for confirmation, refusing to compromise neither her right to privacy nor her principles. Whether or not the senator's ethics can triumph over Washington's politics of deceit, however, remains to be seen. The Contender received generally positive reviews, reinforced by 2 Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The picture earned over $23 million worldwide, more than double its $9 million budget.