Note: This is a prequel to THE RUNNING MATE, with many of the same characters, and occurs 4 years earlier.

Florida Governor Sam Houston St. Clair is the Republican candidate for President when on Election Night it’s discovered that there’s been a tie in the Electoral College, resulting in a deadlock. 

The Constitution requires that in such a case the election is thrown into the House of Representatives, where each state has a single vote. (The same thing happened to Thomas Jefferson.) 

Sam’s son is Jack Houston St. Clair, who, although a Democrat, has put his personal feelings aside and has been helping his dad during the campaign. 

Incumbent Republican President Jeffrey Norwalk is determined that St. Clair will succeed him because he expects St. Clair to continue his policies, especially his foreign policy. The Democratic candidate Senator Frederick Thurston, violently opposes Norwalk’s foreign policy. 

On the other side of the world, the Russians and the Chinese have armies massed at their borders. The Chinese have threatened to divert the water from the massive Ili River which flows into Russia providing the water resources crucial to Russian agriculture. The Russians have already bombed a dam built by the Chinese, but now the Chinese are ready to open a new canal dug that will divert the water, thus crippling Russian agriculture. Policymakers around the world are sitting on the edge of their seats. 

Norwalk and St. Clair support the Russians, while the Democrats and Thurston support the Chinese. 

The Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Washington are already working behind the scenes to get their man elected. 

Norwalk’s aide of Congressional Liaison, Phil Slanetti, has been keeping top-secret files on all members of Congress, a secret weapon Norwalk has never used. 

No one knows about the Keystone File expect Norwalk and Slanetti. 

As it becomes clear what’s at stake, everybody prepares to travel to Washington to begin the deadly bargaining that will eventually produce a new President.