It's been three weeks since the Vice-President of the United States died and second-term President Jackson Evans (JEFF BRIDGES) needs to fill the post. Although Governor Jack Hathaway (WILLIAM PETERSEN) appears to be the top Democratic candidate, his recent failed attempt at saving a drowning woman worries Evans that voters will be reminded of the Chappaquiddick incident from the late '60s.
As such, he decides that Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (JOAN ALLEN) should be the candidate for the job. Although Chief of Staff Kermit Newman (SAM ELLIOT) and White House Communications Director Jerry Toliver (SAUL RUBINEK) realize it will be a tough battle successfully getting an atheistic, pro-choice and former Republican woman nominated, they stand by the President's decision and proceed with the process which begins with a standard FBI background check run by special agent Paige Willomina (KATHRYN MORRIS).
Chief among their obstacles is Illinois Congressman Shelly Runyon (GARY OLDMAN), an older, conservative statesman who will oversee and run the nomination process through his committee. Joined by freshman Delaware Congressman Reginald Webster (CHRISTIAN SLATER), Runyon proceeds to do whatever he can within his power to make sure that he defeats Laine's nomination.
As the process begins, allegations soon fly about Laine's past as photos and stories of her wild collegiate life are uncovered, including that of her simultaneously having sex with two men. Attempting to maintain her dignity, Laine refuses to acknowledge the allegations or discuss her past, stating that it's no one's business and has no bearing on her qualifications.
Nonetheless, things begin to spiral out of control for Laine and her husband, William (ROBIN THOMAS), especially when new allegations arise regarding his previous wife, Cynthia Lee (MARIEL HEMMINGWAY). As the White House tries to apply major damage control and the various pundits offer their opinions of how to proceed, a strategic political game then develops between those who favor and those who oppose the nomination, with Laine trying to stay above the fray as each party willingly tries to do whatever it takes to emerge victorious.