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Chairman, Not Chairwoman

by Maidenjedi

[Story Headers]

TITLE: Chairman, Not Chairwoman
AUTHOR: Maidenjedi
RATING: PG
KEYWORDS: Ainsley
DISCLAIMER: Not mine and I'm not selling. SPOILERS: season six finale
SUMMARY: The Democrats are having their convention, and the Republican National Committee is sweating the outcome.

*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*X*

She wishes she could move the Republican National Committee headquarters to the mountains of North Carolina. It's cooler there.

She hates July in D.C.

There's something cruel about the humidity. She thinks that may have been part of the design in setting up the Capitol here. Beat them down with intimidating architecture and stifling, drowning humidity.

The Democrats are having their convention and she's watching it unfold on C-SPAN and she's flipping the channel to Fox for some snarky commentary courtesy of Shepard Smith. It's how she keeps from yelling at the television.

She tried eating a salad earlier, just a salad, with some dressing, and extra tomatoes, but it wasn't enough and now she's flipping open a menu so she can order a deli sandwich for delivery.

The RNC is standing still, whether because they're waiting to see what the Democrats are going to do or because the humidity has caused their collective joints to stop functioning.

Ainsley bets on the Democrats, no matter how flat her hair is today.

*

She's a Southern girl. She knows how to wink and how to cook and how to breathe and how to flirt. She knows how to control a situation and not have anyone realize she's doing it all. She's polite to a fault even when she's verbose and correcting Democrats who always insist on getting the facts wrong and spinning their gaffes into pretended victories.

She's watching the Democratic convention with bated breath. She hates this part, the waiting. This isn't familiar. The last heavily contested nomination had taken place before she was born. She knows she's not the only one; tonight, no one is resting easy, no one is quite prepared.

It's going to be Russell. She knows it. It has to be.

How else will she maintain the appearance of control?

As the cheers rise for Congressman Matthew Santos, she starts wondering where she left that box of take-out Kung Pao chicken. In the mess? No, it's a breakroom, not a mess, that was the West Wing and she's at RNC headquarters now.

She can't keep watching, so she leaves word to phone her the minute there's a decision, and goes to her office.

A Southern girl keeps her emotions in check in public.

*

She grips the back of the chair with her free hand, intending to pull it away from the desk and sit in it.

Instead she stands there, her knuckles turning white as she listens to the voice on the phone explain what has just happened.

Matthew Santos, that bright young Congressman that even she had come to grudgingly respect, has just won the Democratic nomination for president.

Her knees feel a tad weak. She has fleeting thoughts of fainting, that quaint Southern tradition, of smelling salts and a mint julep and what the hell is all this noise in her head?

Outside her office there are people moving, a fax machine printing a memo that undoubtedly came from the Texas party chairman, asking "could y'all just give us some direction, Congressman Santos is quite popular" and blah, blah every predictable plea. Everyone is talking and someone has already tried knocking on her door, strategy already the topic that will leave none of them time for sleep or eating or their social lives.

At this thought, Ainsley lets go of the chair and instead reaches for the drawer where she has a stash of green apples.

There's only one left; hadn't she just brought some in yesterday?

The phone is still in her left hand and a voice comes through the earpiece, calling for her attention.

"Ainsley, we have to..."

She's a hundred steps ahead of him already; she stops listening and takes a bite out of the apple (and she's hungry but damn it she hates warm apples and she thinks about how she wants to get a mini-fridge for this office). She knows there are things to do. She's got a donor list saved on her computer for a fundraiser they will hold at the state capitol, and she's already called half of them herself and had her staff calling the other half. She's got to go talk to their press secretary, who is probably somewhere availing himself of those famed smelling salts; they need a whole new message, a new angle, a new attack plan.

Arnold Vinick versus Matthew Santos. She's not sure who has scripted this one, but she's damned sure she's going to ask for a pay raise tomorrow.

*

They'd offered all sorts of things when she decided to leave the White House. Book deals, a regular spot on Capital Beat, a syndicated column, even a mini-series. She wasn't interested in any of it, not really. She felt miserable about leaving and what she wanted to do was go back to North Carolina and get her bearings. Figure out if she was destined for law or for politics and if the two were even separable.

Bartlet and his staff did what she'd known they would, because they were good people even if their policies didn't always advertise that fact to partisan idealists. They pulled together, put their best foot forward, and not only escaped ejection but won another election.

How she'd envied them that, even as she felt how incredible it was for them.

She'd spent that campaign season helping an old friend from college win a state House race in North Carolina. Home. Except it wasn't enough. She made a run for state chairman and won. That wasn't enough. After raising more money faster than any other current chairman, she drew the attention of the national party.

And found herself the new chairman a year and a half later.

Tonight she is beginning to realize - this isn't enough, either.

*

It is a long night and no high-ranking Republican gets any sleep. They probably wouldn't have no matter the outcome of the convention. That's what war is like; the generals may change, but the infantry has to work in spite of it, because of it, and for it.

The difference here is that no one has really prepared for this particular general's promotion.

Santos, being from Texas, presents numerous problems. Phone calls keep the RNC staff in DC running around all night. Emails are furiously being typed, the website is undergoing an overall, and the press secretary is catching a wink while he can, because he has to look good for the morning shows.

The press conference goes well and Ainsley, who has the benefits of youth and makeup to get her through where scant sleep won't, looks every bit the blonde sex kitten the left still likes to refer to her as. It will work in their advantage; Ainsley's beauty, youth, and Southern charm balance well with Senator Arnold Vinick's gruff, slightly jaded persona.

As Ainsley catches bits of Vinick's own press conference, she can't help but think of Toby Ziegler and is a bit thankful that she has no one so tense and unrelenting in her cadre of representatives.

But she misses Toby. Vinick is lecturing a reporter and she remembers how Toby Ziegler could always bring the funny. Dark, quiet, and probably sharp funny, but it was still there.

She hopes there's someone in her camp now who can do that.

*

"Ainsley Hayes, Republican National Committee chairwoman, said at the press conference that the party has every confidence and that fundraising will continue to be the number one priority..."

It's non-news, and Ainsley corrects the CNN anchor mentally - chairman, not chairwoman, chairwoman is not a word, it was invented by feminists who sought to make themselves feel better by having a special designation and Ainsley is not someone who needs such validation, chairman is perfectly acceptable and equity could be achieved if we stop seeking to divide....

She takes a deep breath and stops the internal monologue, rant, soliloquy before it reaches fever pitch.

She's had about eighteen hours to absorb the news and she only spent three of those hours sleeping. She wonders why she ever wanted this job and that's when she catches a glimpse of Leo McGarry shaking hands with Matt Santos (as if that made her job any easier, McGarry as the vice presidential candidate and she can't quite remember a time when someone she respected so much believed in the exact opposite of nearly everything...she's doing it again and she pushes play on the CD player behind her so that Gilbert and Sullivan take over). Santos/McGarry.

Vinick is coming in later in the afternoon and they're going to have to have a talk about whether or not to play hardball with McGarry. The alcohol. She will say she doesn't want to and so will Vinick. The press secretary - what is his name? John, Jim, Jeff? - will want to. He always had a taste for vicious mudslinging but that was what he got paid for in his state party and Ainsley wanted it clear that he wasn't getting paid for it here. Of course, if she fires him or he quits she'll need someone else and the only name that she can think of is CJ Cregg and isn't CJ the Chief of Staff now?

For the other side?

Another bite of cheesecake.

Ainsley had once relished taking sides. College Democrats stood no chance when co-ed Republican Ainsley Hayes was nearby. She was unabashedly partisan and ideological. And then there was the White House. There was President Bartlet. There was Sam Seaborn. Sam, gearing up for a Senate run, another friend in the enemy's camp.

She takes a deep breath and brings a bite deli cheesecake to her lips. She has a good staff; they know what she likes.

Time to think. She flips the television station because she can't listen to interjections about celebrity trials and shark attacks while she's strategizing.

Santos is on C-SPAN, they're rerunning the convention highlights and she's listening to his speech. He's good. She knows he's good. Her traitorous heart wonders if he could persuade her and that's how she knows he's going to be hard to beat. There are voters listening right now and they were listening last night and they'll be listening for a few more months. Isn't the beauty of a democracy that anyone can win? It just takes charisma. Santos has that in spades. He's going to be hard to beat.

Hard to beat? Josh Lyman is lurking in the shadows in that shot of a grinning, hugging Santos family. Ainsley can't see him but she knows. And she was always a little in awe of Josh. He is a born campaigner; she likes to think she was, too, but she knows she had to acquire some of the skills that Josh simply has. He's the other reason her stomach drops when she hears Santos' name today.

She thinks about Bob Russell and John Hoynes, who had come so far on Bartlet's coattails. She thinks about how Hoynes tried to grab her ass when he was dead sober and Vice President. She remembers meeting Russell and how his grip was weak and she had wondered how he'd ever won a campaign for school board, much less how he'd gotten to be Vice President. While they were the frontrunners, the Republican National Committee had breathed with considerable ease. How do you beat a couple of vice presidents, one failed and one incumbent? You attack the policies of the presidential administration. Tried and true. Stir up the base, get them to the polls.

How do you beat a wild card congressman from Texas who says almost all the right things and looks good on television to boot?

"Senator Vinick is here, ma'am."

She hates being called "ma'am," but the Southerner in her will never allow anything less.

*

"I like Santos. He's got spirit, and he's got good ideas for education. Bartlet never satisfied anyone on education. Everyone knows my talents lie elsewhere. When we debate, I'm going to lose on that, and you know it, Ms. Hayes."

She takes a swig of Diet Coke and looks Arnold Vinick in the eye. "Senator..."

"Arnold."

She nods, but doesn't acquiesce. Her manners are her mother's, her grandmother's, and so forth. "Senator Vinick, education is where we have failed as well. We have to craft your message around it, and we're going to come up with a plan. Congressman Santos cannot be allowed the higher ground. We had the best plan for school finance two sessions ago and the Democrats were allowed to beat us because our base was silent. We have to motivate them and that's where the RNC's efforts will lie. We will have you up to speed, we will make it your talent."

This is filler. They're talking about it because they're postponing the real discussion. Ainsley feels like she's repeating pleasantries and making small talk. Senator Vinick is fidgeting. Ainsley finds it ridiculous that a man his age, in his position, would actually fidget, but there's no other word for it. She almost envies people who fidget. It seems more socially acceptable than talking too much.

Vinick is eyeing her and she feels no intimidation, no cowardice. She walked into Leo McGarry's closet thinking it was a bathroom; there really isn't any such thing as embarrassment after that.

Unless it comes when you're dancing in your bathrobe in the White House basement when the leader of the free world walks in to say hello.

"Ms. Hayes, I understand you worked in the White House counsel's office for a time."

Of course he does. The press loves that story. Republican guru bred in the Bartlet White House basement. It was good pundit copy. Now he would do what staunch Republicans always did, and she's wondering if she'll be working through this campaign in a law office in Raleigh.

"Do you think we can beat Santos?"

That wasn't the question she was expecting. She'll take it.

"Sir, I think we can do just about anything we set out to do. I think we can take back some of the states we lost in the last gubernatorial rounds, I think we can finally get clear majority in the House. I think we can shape the language of the debate and I think we can ensure that no one will vote on election day without knowing every detail of what we stand for." She takes a breath, because she's stalling and he's smirking because he knows it.

"The truth is, sir, that Congressman Santos has an excellent staff. He's got momentum and he's having a Cinderella moment. I'm not so sure that his coach and four will turn in time. But, Senator, I'm sure that I know I want to win. I want the White House. I want it for you, but I also want it for myself. More than anything, I want it for my country. Those things will motivate me, Senator, and they will inspire me. We can beat Congressman Santos, sir, but only if we take care not to beat ourselves first."

Vinick stands up and Ainsley follows his lead. He sticks out his hand and she takes it.

"Well then, Chairman Hayes. Let's get to work."

END

A/N: Huh. So Ainsley Hayes makes an appearance. I would actually love to see her end up as Vinick's chief of staff. If Santos wins, maybe I can write an AU. :-D

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Fandom:  West Wing
Title:  Chairman, Not Chairwoman
Author:  Maidenjedi   [email]   [website]
Details:  Standalone  |  PG  |  gen  |  14k  |  06/20/05
Characters:  Ainsley, Vinick
Summary:  The Democrats are having their convention, and the Republican
National Committee is sweating the outcome.
Notes:  Spoilers for season six finale

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