The West Wing (TV series)

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The West Wing

The West Wing Title Screen
Genre Serial drama
Running time 42 minutes
Creator(s) Aaron Sorkin
Starring Alan Alda
Stockard Channing
Kristin Chenoweth
Dulé Hill
Allison Janney
Moira Kelly
Rob Lowe
Joshua Malina
Mary McCormack
Janel Moloney
Richard Schiff
Martin Sheen
Jimmy Smits
John Spencer
Bradley Whitford
Country of origin USA
Original channel NBC
Original run September 22, 1999– May 14, 2006
No. of episodes 156 (including two special episodes)
IMDb profile summary

The West Wing is an American television serial drama created by Aaron Sorkin that was originally broadcast from 1999 to 2006. It was produced by John Wells. The series is set in the West Wing of the White House, the location of the Oval Office and offices of presidential senior staff, during the fictional Democratic administration of Josiah Bartlet ( Martin Sheen).

The West Wing was produced by Warner Bros. Television. It first aired on NBC in 1999, and has been broadcast by many networks in dozens of other countries. The series ended its seven year run on May 14, 2006.

The show received positive reviews from critics, political science professors, and former White House staffers. In total, The West Wing won two Golden Globe Awards and 26 Emmy Awards, tying with Hill Street Blues for the most Emmy Awards ever won by a television drama series. Included in this record-equalling haul were four straight awards for Outstanding Drama Series (2000–2003). The show's popularity waned in later years, but it remained popular among high-income viewers, a key demographic for the show and its advertisers.


The West Wing employed a broad ensemble cast to portray the many positions involved in the daily work of the federal government. The President, the First Lady, and the President's senior staff and advisors form the core cast. Numerous secondary characters, appearing intermittently, complement storylines that generally revolve around this core group.

The following table summarizes the main cast. The position listed is the job that the character held in the first season, before any changes took place.

Actor/Actress Character Position (first season)
Stockard Channing Abigail Bartlet First Lady
Dulé Hill Charlie Young Personal Aide to the President
Allison Janney C.J. Cregg Press Secretary
Moira Kelly (1999-2000) Mandy Hampton White House Media Consultant
Rob Lowe (1999-2003; briefly in 2006) Sam Seaborn Deputy Communications Director
Janel Moloney Donna Moss Special Assistant to Josh Lyman
Richard Schiff Toby Ziegler Communications Director
Martin Sheen Josiah "Jed" Bartlet President of the United States
John Spencer Leo McGarry Chief of Staff
Bradley Whitford Josh Lyman Deputy Chief of Staff

Additions to the cast following the first season include Joshua Malina as speech writer and campaign guru Will Bailey, Mary McCormack as deputy National Security Advisor Kate Harper, Kristin Chenoweth as communications advisor Annabeth Schott, Jimmy Smits as Texas Congressman Matt Santos, and Alan Alda as Senator Arnold Vinick of California.

Each of the principal actors made approximately $75,000 an episode, with Sheen's most recently confirmed salary being $300,000. Rob Lowe also had a six-figure salary, reported to be $100,000, because his character originally was supposed to have a more central role. Disparities in cast salaries led to very public contract disputes, particularly by Janney, Schiff, Spencer, and Whitford. During contract negotiations in 2001, the four were threatened with breach-of-contract suits by Warner Bros. However, by banding together, they were able to convince the studio to more than double their salaries. Two years later, the four again demanded a doubling of their salaries, a few months after Warner Bros. had signed new licensing deals with NBC and Bravo.

The show suffered an unexpected loss by the death of John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry. Spencer passed away from a fatal heart attack on December 16, 2005 — about a year after his character experienced a nearly fatal heart attack on the show. A brief memorial message from Martin Sheen ran before " Running Mates", the first new episode that aired after Spencer's death. The loss of Spencer's character, McGarry, was addressed by the series beginning with the episode " Election Day", which aired on April 2, 2006.

Different performers had been originally considered for many of the roles. Bradley Whitford states in an interview on the Season 1 DVD that he was originally cast as Sam, though the character of Josh was the role Whitford had wanted and auditioned for. In addition, Josh's character been written specifically for him by Aaron Sorkin. In the same interview, Janel Moloney states that she had originally auditioned for the role of C.J., and that the role she eventually received, Donna, was not meant to be a recurring character. Other actors who were seriously considered include Alan Alda and Sidney Poitier for the President, Judd Hirsch for Leo, Eugene Levy for Toby, and CCH Pounder for C.J.


The West Wing, like many serial dramas, stretches storylines over several episodes or entire seasons. In addition to these larger storylines, each episode also contains smaller arcs which usually begin and end within an episode. Plot synopses, both for individual episodes and overall seasons, are included with a list of The West Wing episodes.

Most episodes follow President Bartlet and his staff through particular legislative or political issues. Plots can range from behind-closed-doors negotiating with Congress ("Five Votes Down") to personal issues like sex ("Pilot", "Take Out The Trash Day") and drugs (a major plotline throughout the first and second seasons). The typical episode loosely follows the president and his staff through their day. A large, fully connected set of the White House allows the producers to create shots with very few cuts and long, continuous master shots of staff members walking and talking through the hallways. These "walks-and-talks" became a trademark of the show.

In the first season, the administration is in the middle of its first year and is still having trouble settling in and making progress on legislative issues. The second season brings scandal as the White House is rocked by allegations of criminal conduct and the president must decide whether he will run for a second term. The third and fourth seasons take an in-depth look at the campaign trail and the specter of both foreign and domestic terrorism. In the fifth season, the president begins to encounter more issues on the foreign front, while at home he must face off with the newly elected Speaker of the House over the future of the federal budget. The sixth season chronicles the quest to replace Bartlet in the next election, following the primary campaign of several candidates from both parties. In the seventh season, the president must face a leak of confidential information from inside the White House, while the Democratic and Republican candidates battle to replace him in the general election.

Show's evolution

The series developed from the 1995 theatrical film The American President, for which Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. Unused plot elements from the film inspired Sorkin to create The West Wing.

Sorkin intended to centre the show on Sam Seaborn, Bartlet's deputy communications director, with the president in an unseen or a secondary role. However, Bartlet's screen time gradually increased, and his role expanded as the series progressed. Positive critical and public reaction to Sheen's sometimes Clintonesque performance raised his character's profile, decreasing Lowe's perceived significance. This shift is one of the reasons for Lowe's eventual departure from the show in the fourth season.

For the first four seasons, Sorkin wrote almost every episode of the series, occasionally reusing plot elements, character names, and actors from his previous work, Sports Night, a sitcom in which he began to develop his signature dialogue style of rhythmic, snappy, and intellectual banter. Fellow executive producer and director Thomas Schlamme developed the " Walk and Talk," a continuous shot tracking in front of the characters as they walk from one place to another that became part of The West Wing's signature visual style. Sorkin's hectic writing schedule often led to cost overruns and schedule slips, and he opted to leave the show after the fourth season, following increasing personal problems, including a very public arrest for possession of illegal drugs. Thomas Schlamme also left the show after the fourth season. John Wells, the remaining executive producer, took the helm after their departure.

The perceived switch of emphasis from Sorkin's dialogue-centric style of writing to Wells' focus on plot-driven drama angered some of the show's fan base. Some disliked the switch so passionately that they actively campaigned for the series to be cancelled, citing Sorkin's departure as the sole cause of its "decline". However, many viewers continued to tune into The West Wing regularly, with the show consistently averaging eight million viewers a week at the close of its run.

The show aired its series finale on Sunday, May 14, 2006.

Critical reactions

The West Wing offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of America's most powerful address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Many criticisms have been written concerning the show's legitimacy, political slant, and film merits.


The West Wing is not completely accurate in its portrayal of the actual West Wing because of the certain amount of melodrama that must be added to each episode to captivate viewers. However, former White House staffers agree that the show "captures the feel [of the West Wing], shorn of a thousand undramatic details."

Former White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers as well as expert pollster Patrick Caddell served as consultants for the show since the beginning, helping writers and actors depict the West Wing accurately. Other former White House staffers, such as Peggy Noonan and Gene Sperling, have served as consultants for brief periods.

A documentary special in the third season attempts to lend legitimacy to the show's depiction of the real West Wing. Many former West Wing denizens applauded the show's depiction of the real West Wing, including advisor David Gergen, Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton.

While some critics often praise The West Wing for its writing, others fault the show for its unrealistic optimism in the face of all odds. A large part of this criticism rises from the perceived naiveté of the characters. Television critic Heather Havrilesky asks "... how do you go from innocent millipede to White House staffer without becoming soiled or disillusioned by the dirty realities of politics along the way?" However, many fans believe that the show's scripts changed for the worse after Sorkin left the show in 2003.

Social impact

Despite acclaim for the veracity of the series, Sorkin believes, "My obligation isn't to the truth ... my obligation is to captivate you for however long I've asked for your attention." Former White House aide Matthew Miller notes that Sorkin "captivates viewers by making the human side of politics more real than life — or at least more real than the picture we get from the news." Miller also notes that by portraying politicians with empathy, the show has created a "subversive competitor" to the cynical views of politics in media. In the essay "The West Wing and the West Wing", author Myron Levine agrees, stating that the series "presents an essentially positive view of public service and a healthy corrective to anti-Washington stereotypes and public cynicism."

Dr. Staci L. Beavers, associate professor of political science at California State University, San Marcos, wrote a short essay, The West Wing as a Pedagogical Tool, concerning the viability of The West Wing as a teaching tool. She concludes, "While the series’ purpose is for-profit entertainment, The West Wing presents great pedagogical potential." The West Wing, in her opinion, gives greater depth to the political process usually espoused only in stilted talking points on shows like Face the Nation and Meet the Press. However, the merits of a particular argument may be obscured by the viewer's opinion of the character. Beavers also notes that characters with opposing viewpoints are often set up to be "bad people" in the viewer's eyes. These characters are assigned undesirable characteristics having nothing to do with their political opinions, such as being romantically involved with a main character's love interest. In Beavers's opinion, a critical analysis of the show's political views can present a worthwhile learning experience to the viewer.

One of the stranger impacts of the show occurred on January 31, 2006, when The West Wing was said to have played a hand in defeating Tony Blair's government in the British House of Commons, during the so called "West Wing Plot". The plan was allegedly hatched after a Conservative Member of Parliament watched the episode, " A Good Day".

The Left Wing

The West Wing is sometimes called The Left Wing by detractors because of its portrayal of the ideal liberal administration and an alleged penchant to demonize conservatives. Some view the show as a revisionist look at the Clinton presidency: an attempt to solidify the Clinton legacy and to make America forget the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals. On the other hand, some Republicans have admired the show since its inception, regardless of the departure of Sorkin and the show's resulting shift toward the centre. In his 2001 article "Real Liberals versus the West Wing", Mackubin Owens pointed out,

The West Wing (TV series)
Although his administration is reliably liberal, President Bartlet possesses virtues even a conservative could admire. He obeys the Constitution and the law. He is devoted to his wife and daughter [sic]. Being unfaithful to his wife would never cross his mind. He is no wimp when it comes to foreign policy — no quid pro quo for him.
The West Wing (TV series)

Some praise the show for helping to bridge the gap between the left and the right in America. By showing Democratic views on issues and the debate surrounding them, the series has provided many Republicans with useful insights about the views of the left.

Film criticism

In its first season, The West Wing attracted critical attention in the film community with a record nine Emmy wins. The show has been praised for its high production values and continuously recognized for its cinematic achievements. With a budget of $6 million per episode, many consider each week's show to be a small feature film. However, many in the film community believe that the true genius of the show was Sorkin's rapid-fire and witty scripts.

The West Wing is most famously noted for developing the "walk-and-talk"—long Steadicam tracking shots showing characters walking down hallways while involved in long conversations. In a typical "walk-and-talk" shot, the camera leads two characters down a hallway as they speak to each other. One of these characters generally breaks off and the remaining character is then joined by another character, who initiates another conversation as they continue walking. These "walks-and-talks" create a dynamic feel for what would otherwise be long expository dialogue, and have become a staple for dialogue-intensive television show scenes.


In its first season, The West Wing garnered nine Emmys, a record for most won by a series in a single season. In addition the series has received the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, tying Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law for most won in this category. Each of its seven seasons earned a nomination for the award. As of 2006, The West Wing ranks 8th all-time in number of Emmy Awards won by a series.

Twenty individual Emmys have been awarded to writers, actors, and crew members. Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, and Stockard Channing have each received six Emmy nominations for their roles. Allison Janney is the record holder for most wins by a cast member, with a total of four Emmys.

In addition to its Emmys, the show has won two Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, in 2000 and 2001, Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. Martin Sheen is the only cast member to have won a Golden Globe. In both 1999 and 2000, The West Wing was awarded the Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting.

The following table summarizes award wins by cast members.

Actor Awards won
Alan Alda Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2006)
Stockard Channing Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2002)
Allison Janney Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)
Emmy, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (2002, 2004)
SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)
Richard Schiff Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2000)
Martin Sheen Golden Globe, Best Actor in a TV Series - Drama (2001)
SAG Award, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series (2000, 2001)
John Spencer Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2002)
Bradley Whitford Emmy, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (2001)

W.G. "Snuffy" Walden received an Emmy Award for Main Title Theme Music in 2000 for "The West Wing Opening Theme".

Many cast members have been Emmy-nominated for their work on The West Wing but have not won, including Martin Sheen, Dulé Hill, Rob Lowe, Janel Moloney and Mary-Louise Parker. Several people have also received Emmy nominations for guest starring on the show: Matthew Perry, Oliver Platt, Ron Silver, Tim Matheson, and Mark Harmon.

Exploration of real world issues

The West Wing often features extensive discussion of current or recent political issues. After the real-world election of Republican President George W. Bush in 2000, many wondered whether the liberal show could retain its relevance and topicality. However, by exploring many of the same issues facing the Bush administration from a Democratic point of view, the show continued to appeal to a broad audience of both Democrats and Republicans.

In its second season President Bartlet admonished fictional radio host Dr. Jenna Jacobs for her views regarding homosexuality at a private gathering at the White House. Dr. Jacobs is a caricature of radio personality Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who strongly disapproves of homosexuality. Many of the president's biblical references in his comments to Dr. Jacobs, which can be heard here, are thought to have come from a letter circulated online in early May 2000.

The Bartlet administration experienced a scandal during the second and third seasons that has been compared to the Monica Lewinsky affair. President Bartlet was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1992. The scandal centered around President Bartlet's nondisclosure of his illness to the electorate during the election. He is investigated by an opposition Congress for defrauding the public and eventually accepted a Congressional censure. Multiple sclerosis advocacy groups have praised the show for its accurate portrayal of the symptoms of MS and stressing that it is not fatal. The National MS Society commented:

The West Wing (TV series)
For the first time on national television or even in film, the public encountered a lead character with both an MS diagnosis and the hope for a continued productive life. Because [The] West Wing is a fictional drama and not a medical documentary, writers could have greatly distorted MS facts to further their story line [but did not].
The West Wing (TV series)

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the start of the third season was postponed for a week, as were most American television premieres that year. A script for a special episode was quickly written and began filming on September 21. The episode "Isaac and Ishmael" aired on October 3 and addressed the sobering reality of terrorism in America and the wider world, albeit with no specific reference to September 11. While "Isaac and Ishmael" received mixed critical reviews, it illustrated the show's flexibility in addressing current events. The episode is not part of The West Wing continuity.

While the September 11th attacks did not occur in The West Wing continuity, the country did enter into a variation of the War on Terrorism. The war began in the show's third season, when a plot to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge was uncovered; in response, the President ordered the assassination of terrorist leader Abdul Shareef. At the end of the fourth season, the conflict escalated when Zoey Bartlet ( Elisabeth Moss), the president's youngest daughter, was kidnapped by Qumari extremists. The result of this kidnapping was the bombing of Qumar. This storyline drew similarities to the real-world U.S. invasion of Afghanistan as well as U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, as it brought the Middle East to the forefront of U.S. foreign relations and elevated terrorism as a serious threat in The West Wing universe.

In the sixth and seventh seasons, The West Wing explores a leak of top-secret information by a senior staffer at the White House. This leak has been compared to the events surrounding the Valerie Plame affair. In the storyline, the International Space Station is damaged and can no longer produce oxygen for the astronauts to breathe. With other methods of rescue unavailable, the president is reminded of the existence of a top-secret military space shuttle. Following the president's inaction, the shuttle story is leaked to a White House reporter, Greg Brock (analogous to Judith Miller), who prints the story in the New York Times. Brock will not reveal his source and goes to jail for failing to do so, as did Miller. In order to stop the investigation, in which authorities suspect Chief of Staff C.J. Cregg, Toby Ziegler admits to leaking the information, and the President is forced to dismiss him. In comparison, the Plame affair is still under investigation, but charges have been brought against Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff, who has since resigned. Richard Armitage, an official in the Bush State Department, has also acknowledged leaking information to reporters.

Other issues explored in The West Wing include:

  • North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions
  • Strained relations and a state of brinksmanship between India and Pakistan
  • Legislation of the Central American Free Trade Agreement
  • The formation of the Minuteman Project
  • Peacemaking and terrorism in Israel, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, including a peace negotiation at Camp David, similar to the Camp David 2000 Summit.
  • The genocide in Darfur, Sudan
  • AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • The Northern Ireland peace process in one episode.

The West Wing universe


All contemporary domestic government officials in The West Wing universe have been fictional. President Bartlet has made three appointments to the fictional Supreme Court and maintains a full cabinet, although the names and terms of all members have not been revealed. Some cabinet members, such as the Secretary of Defense, appear more often than others. Many other government officials, such as mayors, governors, judges, representatives, and senators, have been mentioned and seen as well.


While several real-world leaders exist in the show's universe, most foreign countries have fictional rulers. Some real persons mentioned in The West Wing include Muammar al-Qaddafi, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Queen Elizabeth II, and Osama bin Laden. However, when a peace accord was worked out between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at the start of the show's sixth season, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority was the fictional Nizar Farad, not Arafat.

Entire countries are invented as composite pictures that epitomize many of the problems that plague real nations in certain areas of the world. Qumar, an oil-rich, terrorist-sponsoring Middle Eastern state is repeatedly a source of trouble for the Bartlet administration. According to maps on the show, Qumar appears to consist of a small part of southern Iran, including the important Strait of Hormuz. Elsewhere, Equatorial Kundu is an African nation blighted by AIDS and a civil war resembling the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Real world events

Recent historical events from the real world that are mentioned in The West Wing include the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich , the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Three Mile Island Nuclear accident, the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, the first Gulf War, U.S. military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism, the signing of the Kyoto Protocol, the 1986 bombing of Tripoli in Libya, the 1989 Tiananmen Square events in the People's Republic of China, and the 1998 Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement.

Presidential elections

Timeline skew

The last real president who is known to have existed in the show's universe is Richard Nixon. Presidents who served between Nixon and Bartlet include Democrat D. Wire Newman ( James Cromwell) and Republican Owen Lassiter (now deceased). It was not disclosed whether Newman and Lassiter served directly before President Bartlet. It is clear, however, that Newman (loosely based on Jimmy Carter) lost an election to Lassiter (based on Ronald Reagan), who then proceeded to serve for two full terms. In an episode centering around Lassiter's funeral, Bartlet and Newman were shown to be the only two surviving former Presidents who had served full terms.

The passage of time on the show relative to that of the real world has always been somewhat ambiguous when marked by events of smaller duration (e.g., votes, campaigns). Sorkin has noted in a DVD commentary track for the second season episode "18th and Potomac" that he has tried to avoid tying The West Wing to a specific period of time. Despite this, real years are occasionally mentioned, usually in the context of elections and President Bartlet's two-term administration.

The show's presidential elections have been held in 2002 and 2006, setting them off by two years from actual presidential elections in the United States (e.g., 1996, 2000, 2004, etc.). The election timeline in The West Wing matched up with that of the real world until the middle of the fifth season, when it appears that a year was lost. For example, the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary, which would normally fall in January 2006, appeared in an episode airing in January 2005.

In interviews, John Wells stated that the series began one and a half years into Bartlet's first term and that the election to replace Bartlet was being held at the correct time. There is evidence against this claim, which is discussed further in the main article.

1998 presidential election

Bartlet's first campaign for president is never significantly explored in the series. Bartlet won the election with 48% of the popular vote, 48 million votes, and a 303–235 margin in the Electoral College. Bartlet faced three debates with his Republican opponent. It is mentioned that Bartlet won the third and final debate, which was held on October 30, 1998, in St Louis, Missouri, and that this helped swing a close election in his favour.

The campaign for the Democratic nomination was extensively addressed. In the episodes "In the Shadow of Two Gunmen" and "Bartlet for America", flashbacks are used to tell how Bartlet defeated Texas Senator John Hoynes ( Tim Matheson) and Washington Senator William Wiley for the Democratic nomination. The flashbacks also revealed how Leo McGarry persuaded Bartlet, who was then governor of New Hampshire, to run for president and how Bartlet ultimately selected John Hoynes as his choice as running mate.

2002 presidential election

The West Wing's 2002 presidential election pitted Bartlet and Vice President John Hoynes against Florida Governor Robert Ritchie ( James Brolin) and his running mate, Jeff Heston. Bartlet faced no known opposition for renomination, though Democratic Senator Stackhouse did launch a brief independent campaign for the presidency. Ritchie, not originally expected to contend for the nomination, emerged from a field of seven other Republican candidates by appealing to the party's conservative base with simple, homey sound bites.

Bartlet's staff contemplated replacing Vice President John Hoynes on the ticket with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Percy Fitzwallace ( John Amos), among others. After it was clear that Ritchie would be the Republican nominee, Bartlet dismissed the idea, declaring that he wanted Hoynes in the number two spot, "Because I could die."

Throughout the season it was anticipated that the race would be close, but a stellar performance by Bartlet in the sole debate between the candidates gave Bartlet a landslide victory in both the popular and electoral vote.

2006 presidential election

A speed-up in The West Wing's timeline, in part due to the expiration of many cast members' contracts and a desire to continue the program with lower production costs, resulted in the omission of the 2004 midterm elections and an election during the seventh season. The sixth season extensively detailed the Democratic and Republican primaries. The seventh season covers the lead-up to the general election, the election, and the transition to a new administration. The timeline slowed down to concentrate on the general election race. The election, normally held in November, took place across two episodes originally broadcast on April 2 and April 9, 2006.

Congressman Matt Santos (D- TX) was nominated on the fourth ballot at the Democratic National Convention, staged as the sixth season finale. Santos was planning to leave Congress before being recruited to run for the presidency by Josh Lyman. Santos polled in the low single digits in the Iowa caucus and was virtually out of the running in the New Hampshire primary before a last-ditch direct television appeal vaulted him to a third-place finish with 19% of the vote. Following allusions during the Bartlet administration, Josh Lyman, Santos's campaign manager, convinced Leo McGarry to become Santos's running mate. However, John Spencer, the actor portraying Leo McGarry, died on December 16, 2005.

Senator Arnold Vinick (R-CA) ( Alan Alda) secured the Republican nomination, defeating Glen Allen Walken ( John Goodman) and the Reverend Don Butler ( Don S. Davis), among others. Initially, Vinick wanted Butler to become his running mate. However, Butler did not want to be considered because of Vinick's stance on abortion. Instead, West Virginia Governor Ray Sullivan ( Brett Cullen) was chosen as Vinick's running mate. Vinick was portrayed throughout the sixth season as virtually unbeatable because of his popularity in California, a typically Democratic state, his moderate views, and his wide crossover appeal. Vinick, however, has faced difficulty with the pro-life members of his party as a pro-choice candidate, and criticism for his support of nuclear power following a serious accident at a Californian nuclear power station.

On the evening of the election, Leo McGarry suffered a massive heart attack and was pronounced dead at the hospital, with the polls still open on the West Coast. The Santos campaign released the information immediately, while Arnold Vinick refused to use Leo's death as a "stepstool" to the presidency. Santos emerged as the winner in his home state of Texas, while Vinick won his home state of California. The election came down to Nevada, where both candidates needed a victory to secure the presidency. Vinick had told his staff repeatedly that he would not allow his campaign to demand a recount of the votes if Santos was declared the winner. Josh Lyman was seen giving Santos the same advice, although the Santos campaign did send a team of lawyers down to Nevada. Matthew Vincente Santos was pronounced the winner of the election, having won Nevada by 30,000 votes, with an electoral margin of 272–266.

Santos organizes his administration, choosing Josh Lyman as Chief of Staff, who in turn called on former colleague Sam Seaborn for Deputy Chief. In need of experienced cabinet members, Santos tapped Arnold Vinick as Secretary of State, believing the senior statesman to be one of the best strategists available and respected by foreign leaders.

President Bartlet's final act as President of the United States is pardoning Toby Ziegler. The series ends with Bartlet returning to New Hampshire. Having said his goodbyes to his closest staff, former President Bartlet tells President Santos "Make me proud, Mr. President", to which Santos responds, "I'll do my best, Mr. President."

According to executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell, the death of Spencer forced him and his colleagues to consider the emotional strain that would result from having Santos lose both his running mate and the election. It was eventually decided that the last episodes would be rescripted by John Wells, executive producer of ER and The West Wing.

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