Actor Who Played Obama-like Character on The West Wing to Rally With Obama Tonight in Florida

Oct 29, 2008 9:26pm

Tonight, when actor Jimmy Smits joins Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., (not to mention former President Bill Clinton) on stage at a late night rally in Kissimmee, Florida, it will be a case of art meeting life imitating art imitating life.

Smits, you may recall, played Rep. Matt Santos, D-Texas, in the final two seasons of The West Wing — a charming, inexperienced, young Democratic presidential candidate, a former community organizer with two young children who talked of breaching the partisan divide and was trying to become the first non-white U.S. President.

If Santos, whose election to the White House ended the seven-year run of the show, reminds you a bit of Obama you’re not alone. And it’s not an accident.

Santos in many ways was modeled on Obama, then just a candidate for U.S. Senate.

"I drew inspiration from him in drawing this character," West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie told the Guardian.  "When I had to write, Obama was just appearing on the national scene. He had done a great speech at the (2004) convention and people were beginning to talk about him." Attie called Obama senior strategist David Axelrod and said, "tell me about Barack Obama."

So Smits, who played Santos, will tonight be on stage with Obama, whose campaign in many ways already played out on TV, though in reality Santos was based on Obama not the other way around.

Santos on the show was challenging an older Republican from a Western state with a reputation for moderate positions, straight talk, and difficulties courting Christian conservatives. Alan Alda played the fictitious Sen. Arnie Vinick, R-Calif.

Lawrence O’Donnell, a producer and writer for the series told the New York Times that he used McCain as one of the templates for Vinick, though he said, "McCain’s resemblance to the Vinick character was much stronger in 2000 than in 2008."

Ultimately, Santos became president. We of course do not yet know how this show will end.

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