Double Image

There he stands, in grainy, jerky images resembling an old home movie. Captured on rough-hewn film is George W. Bush in a Cub Scout troop line, then posing for snapshots with boys clad in Little League baseball uniforms. More footage follows him out of an airport building marked "Davenport, Iowa. Elevation: 753," its burnt-orange brick facade suggesting another era.

Scenes shift from bleached color to sooty black-and-white. Bush, dressed in a white polo shirt, jeans and a San Antonio Spurs cap, touring a Waco-area ranch he hopes to transform into his presidential retreat. Striding gallantly across the plain, sun-cast shadows on his face and clothes. He looks taller and heavier. He looks, for a split second, like his father.

Then the film flows to color and to Iowa. A father pulling three children in a wagon that has a "Bush for President" sign attached to its side. A young girl standing in the foreground, shy of the camera, giggling nervously, shuffling her feet and munching on a snack.

Mark McKinnon stares at the flashing screen with obvious pleasure. His Super 8mm footage has caught the bygone flavor that sparks memories of youthful innocence -- those precious Sunday nights when Dad and Mom would thread and fire up the unreliable home projector for family movies. Hawaiian Punch and Jiffy Pop served on a TV tray.

McKinnon, hired by Bush to produce his TV advertising, spent much of the summer traveling with Bush, shooting film he can use as fodder for future ads. He is reviewing the footage inside the Austin office of Maverick Media, a consulting business he formed to produce political media for Bush.

Maverick signifies a return to the political campaign wars for McKinnon, a wordsmith and image-maker who for a dozen years worked exclusively for Democrats. A self-described anarchist in college who cursed conservative ideals just for kicks, McKinnon graduated to the spin-doctoring profession where he could skewer Republicans for profit.

His list of past clients is impressive.

Former governor Ann Richards hired McKinnon to manage her media office for her 1990 Democratic primary. In 1991 McKinnon produced former Houston mayor Bob Lanier's campaign TV ads, staying in Lanier's house for a week in order to get to know his client better. Before the taping of one ad, Lanier prepared to change out of his cardigan and put on a suit. McKinnon stopped him, realizing Lanier would appear more genuine dressed in his sweater. And the consultant guided Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk to election as well.

McKinnon's keen eye also captured moments on camera that gave voters intimate glimpses into former lieutenant governor Bob Bullock. In two unscripted ads shot for Bullock's 1994 re-election campaign, the lieutenant governor sat on a porch swing with his wife, birds chirping in the background. Bullock's lyrical ad-libs started flowing as McKinnon, who sat beside the camera, casually chatted with him about his goals. Bullock, who died in June, may not have even realized the camera was running.

"Look, I've had all the honors, just about every honor that you could have," Bullock said in one of the ads. "So I'm not interested in honors. Not interested in any more plaques. What I'm interested in is building Texas. For my grandson, your children and his children. Make it a little bit better than it was, than the day I was born at 504 Craig Street in a frame house in Hillsboro, Texas. Front bedroom."

That ad arguably is the best McKinnon has ever produced.

McKinnon was considered one of Austin's elite campaign media consultants when he jumped ship in 1996, declaring in an essay published in Texas Monthly that he had grown weary and wary of "desperate candidates, manic campaign managers, and the last minute attack and response ads." Instead, he would work exclusively to further the political objectives of corporate clients, such as phone companies and utilities. It was hardly a holy cleansing of the soul, but at least it wasn't partisan politics.

As the 1998 election season approached, McKinnon turned down offers from Democrats such as lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp and comptroller candidate Paul Hobby. Then Bullock, who kept a close kinship with McKinnon after 1994, suggested he sit down with Bullock pal Bush, who was shopping for someone new to produce his TV advertising.

The two had a private lunch at the Governor's Mansion. "When I first met him, I didn't want to like the guy," says McKinnon, 44. "I had a Democratic history, and I went in with my guns loaded."

As McKinnon recalls the meeting, Bush asked him more about his family than his politics. Each man is married and has teenage daughters, so they had plenty to compare. Bush accepted a cookie baked by McKinnon's child. He wrote a note on governor's stationery telling the girl how much he enjoyed it. She has the note framed on her desk at home.

"It was one of those little touches that went a long way," McKinnon says. "He really is thoughtful about others. I left that meeting with the feeling that he was the kind of guy I could get in a boat with for a long trip."

Some Democrats who worked with McKinnon consider his union with Bush the unholiest of matrimonies. To them, McKinnon is guilty of betrayal and selling out -- like a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan whose favorite tune suddenly becomes "Hail to the Redskins."

They wonder if McKinnon lives in a constant state of self-rationalization -- focusing on Bush's great-guy disposition as an excuse to ignore Bush's duty to the Republican party. They conclude McKinnon is lying either to himself or to others about his real motives to work for Bush. The other possibility is that he actually has abandoned the political ideals he once held dear.

"A consultant who works for a candidate who stands for the exact opposite of what he worked for before is either amoral, unprincipled, has had some mysterious religious conversion or is doing it just for the money," says Dean Rindy, a hard-line Democratic political consultant from Austin. Rindy's partnership with McKinnon in 1990 and '91 ended in an ugly legal battle over disputed revenues.

"Mark has to pretend that he was the reluctant virgin in a romance novel -- that he met George W. Bush, got swept off his feet and now he's pregnant -- and I don't believe that," Rindy says. "Mark is plainly doing this for money and ambition."

McKinnon says he made more money in his previous jobs as a consultant for corporations than he is earning with Bush. But he does not deny that his current gig can be parlayed into a fortune in the future -- if that's what he wants. He maintains his motivation is as pure as the wholesome images he has captured on Super 8.

"Over time, I have learned Governor Bush is somebody who is compelling, interesting, compassionate and loyal and a terrifically decent human being," McKinnon says. "I have come to believe that the character of the candidate or office holder is at least as important as their ideology. I'm certainly not a Republican. But I'm not an ideologue anymore, and I'm not a partisan anymore."

Yet McKinnon finds himself in the middle of a political campaign -- the race for president -- that by definition is as ideological and partisan as they come.

"Politics should never be about who is more likable or who is the coolest," says Samantha Smoot, who worked on progressive and Democratic party politics with McKinnon for ten years, including efforts to preserve abortion rights.

"Politics is about how people's families and lives are impacted. You can't just put your head in the sand and say, 'I like George W. Bush, so it doesn't really matter that he won't do anything to keep guns out of kids' hands or that he'll support restrictions on abortion rights.' "

As the campaign progresses, a day of reckoning will come for McKinnon. No matter how hard Bush tries to keep his campaign on the high road, a presidential campaign cannot maintain the innocence of an old home movie. During the 1998 gubernatorial race, McKinnon never had to create an ad for Bush that attacked Democratic opponent Garry Mauro. Bush enjoyed such a big lead, he never had to go negative. But in the presidential race, if Bush wins the GOP nomination, McKinnon undoubtedly will be asked to produce an ad that attacks Democratic nominee Al Gore or Bill Bradley. And he may find the message terribly offensive.

"My job is to communicate Bush's ideas, not mine," is a phrase McKinnon is fond of repeating.

Communicating Bush's ideas hasn't been a problem for McKinnon thus far because the early stages of the campaign have been short on specifics and heavy on image. But as Bush gets more precise on issues and the campaign grows more partisan, McKinnon draws closer to the day his job and his personal beliefs will violently clash. Then he will have to decide who he really is, what he really wants and what he really thinks about George W. Bush.

McKinnon and Bush were still warming up to each other when they traveled together on a campaign swing during a summer heat wave in 1998. With temperatures in the triple digits, the two decided to go for a run on the blazing concrete surrounding the Ballpark in Arlington.

"It was a deal where we were both too macho and too competitive to stop and say, 'This is nuts,' " McKinnon recalls. "We literally almost killed each other and finally sort of stopped after two miles and realized we both were about to die."

Democrats trying to figure out what has drawn McKinnon and Bush to each other examine their personalities as much as their politics. Both are fitness buffs who boast wry touches to their humor. Each is outwardly easygoing, infectiously charming and extremely confident.

"We both really like to color outside the lines," McKinnon says. "I'm not a very conventional person. I like to kind of throw deep and do what's unexpected. It's very much like the governor. I think part of the reason he brought me aboard was that hiring me represented an unconventional approach."

On the day he screened the Super 8 footage, McKinnon had just returned from British Columbia, where he had competed in an Ironman triathlon, an ultimate test of physical endurance that combines swimming, bicycling and running. His thick brown hair was streaked blond by the sun. A tuft of graying chest hair peered out from the collar of his lightweight wool V-neck sweater, the pulled-up sleeves exposing a silver-and-black Nike sport watch on his left wrist.

He has a good look, and he likes to look good. McKinnon is an investor in one of the hippest lounges in Austin, Club DeVille, which he describes as tawny mix of concrete, broken-glass art and patio furniture.

"It's a place where I can go and act like a big shot and have a drink named after me," he says.

The McKinnon is a vodka martini with lemon juice. Its namesake loves to drink them while puffing on a cigar.

In an education-policy speech a few weeks ago, Bush laid out his plan for using federal money to send children in low-performing public schools to private schools. He couched his school voucher proposal in language such as "pigment and poverty need not determine performance" and "federal money will no longer flow to failure."

Samantha Smoot looked at a copy of the speech and saw McKinnon's alliterative footprints all over it. Smoot is executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit set up to negate the political influence of the religious right. She believes school vouchers are a ploy to funnel taxpayer dollars into church-based private schools.

"This is a problematic and controversial idea, but the verbiage in Bush's speech was beautiful and almost musical," Smoot says. "This is Mark's gift. It's too bad he is using his talents to dress up these stinkers."

McKinnon is a key member of a small group of Bush communications advisers. On a recent campaign swing, he filled in for Karen Hughes as the candidate's press secretary. McKinnon says a colleague wrote most of the education address. It is not as if McKinnon is trying to distance himself -- he says he believes Bush's positions on education are "ahead of where most Democrats are."

"I think most of the positions he takes are reasonable," says McKinnon, who declines to detail those he finds unreasonable. On issues where they disagree, he says, Bush is open to hearing McKinnon's views. "I think he likes having me press from the other side. I rarely prevail, but the governor understands that I will never be shy about expressing my point of view. Once I've done so, though, I'll huddle up and go with whatever play is called."

Chuck McDonald can relate to what McKinnon is saying. McDonald is a former press secretary for Ann Richards who worked alongside McKinnon to try to elect Democrats across the state in the early 1990s. After Richards lost her re-election race in 1994, McKinnon urged McDonald to form his own political communications consulting business. McDonald quickly found that to make a living, he had to make friends with those he used to mock. McDonald's first major corporate client was the tobacco industry.

"In the state of Texas right now, if you are looking for paying customers, they're Republicans," says McDonald. Like McKinnon, he gets accused of selling out. "The people who say to me that they would never sell out, I ask, 'What do you have to sell?' They don't have an ability that people want."

McDonald says he can work for a client as long as the client's position is not "inherently evil."

"Mark has to ask himself only one question: Will he be doing lasting harm to this nation by helping elect George W. Bush?" McDonald says. "And I guarantee you he doesn't think he will."

It seems like every time Mark McKinnon sets out to try to hit the big time, someone gets angry in the process. His first lunge for stardom happened when he was 16 years old, during the summer before his junior year in a Denver high school. It was his mother who fumed.

McKinnon lived the enviable life of a teenager with a band, an eclectic folk-rock combo called Daybreak that caught the ear of country music star Kris Kristofferson. McKinnon wrote the songs, sang and played guitar. When Kristofferson offered to cut the band a demo tape and try to get the members a record deal, the starstruck teen was overwhelmed at the prospects of fame (chicks) and fortune (cars).

"I was bored with school," McKinnon remembers. "I wanted to go see the world and live life to its fullest. I felt confined, so I left home."

Before running away -- six months of freedom that he calls a "great chapter" in his life -- he left his mother a cleverly crafted message. On a so-called graffiti wall in his little brother's room, where the kids could write anything that struck their fancy, Mark McKinnon broadcast his parting shot: "The anvil outlasts the hammer."

McKinnon's brother Christopher, who is 18 months younger, considered the message a slap at their mother for trying to impose her will on Mark. She, the hammer, would wear down, while he, the anvil, would endure.

"Those words showed the deep sense that Mark felt he could find his own way," says Christopher McKinnon, who lives in Colorado.

Rebel Mark packed his guitar and a small bag and hitchhiked across the Southwest on his way to the music recording mecca of Nashville.

"I wanted to be Jack Kerouac," McKinnon says. His fascination with the famous drifter and author continues. He pinned a quote from Kerouac's On the Road to his office wall during his work in Mark White's unsuccessful 1986 gubernatorial re-election campaign, and he still considers it a life's mantra:

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes, 'Awww!' "

The live-free philosophies of the beat generation, however, didn't always cooperate with those who tried them. McKinnon's high hopes that summer and fall plummeted with the realization that he needed to finish high school. The anvil returned to the hammer in Denver for the second semester of his junior year.

After graduating high school in 1972, he returned to Nashville. Then in 1975 he won a contest for new songwriters at Texas's famed Kerrville Folk Festival. McKinnon decided to stay on in Austin, which was gaining a national reputation for live music.

He formed folk-rock bands with names he could get away with only in the 1970s: Goats of Arabia, Fork in the Road, and Lazlo Frink and the Odd Sofa Revue (featuring the Lazlettes). McKinnon was Lazlo Frink. His bands played to appreciative audiences but not to commercial success.

Realizing he was not going to become the next Paul Simon, or even Art Garfunkel, McKinnon enrolled at the University of Texas and started writing for the college newspaper, The Daily Texan. The student body elected him editor in 1980 in a campaign that served notice of McKinnon's political acumen. After McKinnon slipped some dirt about one opponent to a second opponent, the two foes engaged in a nasty battle. Meanwhile, the chaste McKinnon skated to victory.

It was a divisive time on campus and in the country. Ayatollah Khomeini held Americans hostage in Iran. At UT, Iranian students supportive of the Khomeini regime demonstrated against a speaker who expressed the pro-Shah view held by the United States.

McKinnon recalls the demonstration as mild, but that did not stop the police from arresting the protesters and Travis County from prosecuting them as scapegoats of America's inability to flog Khomeini himself. During the students' trial, prosecutors called McKinnon as a witness. They demanded he release the film that a Daily Texan photographer had shot of the demonstration, hoping to use the pictures as evidence against the students. McKinnon refused, and the judge ordered him jailed for contempt of court. His lawyer pulled some strings so he would not have to spend a night behind bars, and the trial ended the next day.

The experience propelled McKinnon to folk-hero status among liberal college journalists across the country. He had thumbed his nose at the establishment at a time when America was beginning to embrace the conservative ideals of Ronald Reagan. As conservatism came into vogue along Greek Rows at UT and college campuses across the country, McKinnon was, in his words, "absolutely assaulting the fraternities." He adds, "In fact, some fraternity hung me in effigy. I was sort of an anarchist. I didn't believe in student government, fraternities -- I wanted absolutely no part of any of that."

Some years before, at Yale University, George W. Bush was president of his fraternity. The glib and confident son of a Republican congressman and grandson of a Republican U.S. senator, Bush represented everything that McKinnon abhorred.

Asked about the contrasts, McKinnon applies his current mind-set to allow him to recast his past.

"I think I would have liked him much in the same way I do now," he says. "It would have been a counter-intuitive chemistry. I think we would have run into each other where he would have sort of said, 'Hmm, ex-musician,' and I would have said, 'Hmm, fraternity guy.' And our instincts would have been to not want to connect, and despite that instinct, we would have found we had a lot of characteristics in common."

It was late 1983. The Reagan Revolution was a rip-roaring success for conservatives; George H.W. Bush was a heartbeat away from the presidency.

And Mark McKinnon was drifting somewhat aimlessly, strumming his guitar only for fun, his hopes of a musical career having faded.

Then he wandered into the campaign office of Lloyd Doggett, a liberal Democratic state senator from Austin who was making an unlikely bid for the U.S. Senate. Doggett, a young, reform-minded legislator who wouldn't let lobbyists visit his Capitol office, impressed McKinnon. While at The Daily Texan, McKinnon wrote editorials praising Doggett for his courage. Doggett's campaign brought together Texas's young idealists.

One of those idealists was Lena Guerrero, who was running at the same time to represent Austin in the Texas House. She served in the House until Ann Richards appointed her to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1991. Her 1992 campaign to keep her job, however, went haywire when voters learned she had lied about being a college graduate.

Today Guerrero is a lobbyist commanding huge fees from corporate clients such as AT&T, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Intel.

Like McKinnon, Guerrero's political idealism has gone the way of her youth.

"If the question is whether Mark was a true believer in the mid-'80s, well, we all were," she says. "We were young and new to the political process to some extent. We had an 'us versus them' attitude.

"I don't view the world that way anymore, and I'll bet you Mark doesn't either. Professionally, we've grown to understand that issues have two sides, that there are degrees and dimensions. We've grown up. I've arrived at the same conclusion Mark apparently has: that Republicans are not all evil any more than Republicans should think all Democrats are."

Back when McKinnon still believed Republicans were evil, he earned $5 an hour typing data into computers for Doggett's campaign. Then he was spotted by Paul Begala, who was UT student body president when McKinnon was Daily Texan editor. Begala, who directed Doggett's press office, plucked McKinnon from his clerical job to work for him. A hyperactive political consultant from Louisiana named James Carville managed the Doggett campaign.

Begala and Carville went on to become key Washington-based political consultants to President Bill Clinton and silver-tongued stars of the Sunday TV talk-show circuit.

Led by Carville, the team of young idealists -- Begala, McKinnon and Guerrero -- helped Doggett pull off an exciting Democratic primary victory. But in the Reagan landslide of 1984, Phil Gramm trounced Doggett. McKinnon figured his career as a political hack was over as quickly as it had begun.

Politics being a career offering multiple lives, McKinnon got a call to work in the press office of then-governor Mark White, a Democrat. McKinnon was press secretary for White's unsuccessful re-election run in 1986.

During that campaign, McKinnon met Brian Rodgers, whose job was to schedule appearances for White's wife. Rodgers was fond of McKinnon, enjoying his dry sense of humor and respecting his introspective, unflappable nature. So when Rodgers, a die-hard Democrat, read in the newspaper last year that McKinnon had gone to work for Bush's gubernatorial re-election campaign, he couldn't believe it.

Rodgers remembered McKinnon as the principled hippie who was willing to go to jail instead of bowing to the oppressive prosecution of Iranian students. Rodgers had always thought he and McKinnon were cut from the same cloth. Rodgers quoted Noam Chomsky, and McKinnon quoted Jack Kerouac.

Rodgers still quotes Chomsky, and he would be happy to know that McKinnon still quotes Kerouac, although the On the Road quote doesn't hang over his desk like it did when he worked for White. That has been replaced by a large framed photograph of George W. Bush and Bob Bullock. Bush signed the matting in black felt pen: "Mark: You're the man."

Shortly after McKinnon signed on with Bush, Rodgers ran into his old friend at the downtown Austin YMCA. "I said to him, 'What are you doing? Don't you know his father was a murdering son of a bitch with the CIA?' And Mark said something like, 'Uh-huh, but his son's a really nice guy.' " (McKinnon says he remembers only Rodgers spouting off some wild conspiracy theory involving former president Bush and the CIA.)

McKinnon's jump to the "dark side," as Rodgers calls it, discouraged him so much that he felt he had to offset McKinnon's move.

While mowing his lawn one afternoon, Rodgers, 43, says he contemplated that what McKinnon sees purely as a career move could dramatically change the destiny of earth. "I don't know if Bush knows anything about global warming, but I do know that Al Gore does. If Bush is elected president, Exxon could run this country's global-warming policy."

The owner of a smattering of small office warehouses and developer of a mobile home park, Rodgers invested several thousand dollars of his earnings to lease a billboard along Interstate 35 in Austin, situated along a sight line of the state Capitol. On it, he advertised his World Wide Web site, www.georgebush2000.com.

The Web site is a storehouse of unflattering tidbits about Bush and his policies. Featured is a quote, supposedly uttered by former president Gerald Ford: "Candidates without ideas hiring consultants without convictions to run campaigns without content."

"I can't see someone like Mark McKinnon as an intolerant person, and I believe the Republican Party is intolerant," Rodgers says. "I'll grant you that maybe George W. Bush isn't that intolerant. He may even be endearing. But he comes from the Republican Party, the party of Trent Lott, and if they get into the White House and keep Congress, we will have a Republican-run government, and that's frightening to environmentalists, civil libertarians, consumers and unions."

It should, Rodgers says, also be frightening to McKinnon -- at least to the guy he used to know. McKinnon says that guy doesn't exist anymore.

"I don't believe everything I did ten years ago," McKinnon says. "I am a different human being. We're not stuck in time or place. I'll admit there was a time when I measured the number of positions in which I was aligned with a candidate. That's no longer the case. To me, it's more important where their heart is and that they have good judgment, loyalty, honesty and integrity."

Voters requested in 1986 that Mark White clear out of the governor's office, meaning McKinnon had to hunt for a job again.

As McKinnon was trying to figure out his game plan, he received a phone call from a consultant named Dick Morris asking him to be press secretary for then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. Another call came around the same time, a similar offer from Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the Democrat Bush would trounce in 1998 with McKinnon's help. McKinnon turned down both offers, instead choosing to work for the campaign of Buddy Roemer, a Democratic congressman wanting to be governor of Louisiana.

McKinnon had other opportunities to work for Clinton but turned them down. James Carville called him in the spring of 1992 asking him to work for the campaign in Little Rock. Paul Begala rang in 1993 to ask McKinnon to consider doing press for then-labor secretary Robert Reich.

Had he signed on with Clinton, McKinnon might have been the guy defending the president on the Sunday talk shows. Or he might have been the guy with the lucrative tell-all book deal. It would be easy to conclude that McKinnon hooked up with Bush out of regret for not hooking up with Clinton. But he is adamant when he says that his decisions to not work for Clinton are among the best he has ever made in his life.

"I want to work with people I can respect," McKinnon says. "I had reservations about Clinton, and they have been affirmed in spades. He's been incredibly disloyal to the people around him. You can look at the trail of the people who have served the president who he has sort of discarded and thrown away. It's a graveyard of people who sacrificed a lot for him.

"One of the things I admire about Governor Bush and the whole Bush family is [that] the loyalty to their friends and staff is deep, real and genuine."

Dean Rindy, McKinnon's estranged former business partner, suggests that McKinnon's admiration for the Bushes is a recent epiphany. In 1988 McKinnon worked in Washington for a political consulting firm that did the media for then-president Bush's Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis. "The truth of the matter is, the firm did the race, so I can't disassociate myself from it, but I was a junior guy," McKinnon says.

Rindy says that when he and McKinnon worked together, McKinnon often expressed a lack of respect for the president. "He had nothing but contempt for George W. Bush's father. He thought that George Bush was just a doofus. We talked about politics all the time. I hesitate to quote exactly from eight or nine years ago, but I can tell you he was severely critical of George Bush and of the Republican Party. Or claimed to be. He is now in bed with people he used to ridicule."

McKinnon contends that he believed, even back then, that the Bushes were decent people, but he adds: "Yeah, you know, back then I was drinking the Democratic Kool-Aid."

Now, Mark McKinnon is sipping fortune from a chalice.

"There's no bigger credential a political consultant can put on his résumé," says McDonald, the Austin political consultant who defends McKinnon. "He's getting to do every political hack's ultimate challenge. He's in the game. He may not make it to the end, but it doesn't matter. He has his shot."

McKinnon credits Bush with restoring his faith in politics. The list of politicians he respected was whittled down to a few, Lanier and Bullock being those he names most often. McKinnon says he liked how they were both so self-assured, which allowed them to make decisions independent of outside influence. He says he sees the same trait in Bush.

Lanier says he is convinced McKinnon is working for Bush for no reason other than that he believes in him.

"I think he's being absolutely 100 percent true to himself," says Lanier, a Democrat who was convinced by McKinnon and Bullock to endorse Bush for re-election in 1998. "He has gone to work for a guy who he thinks -- and I think -- is a very decent person and who will be good for the country if elected. Ten years from now, he is going to be able to look back and be very proud of the decision he has made. And I know that's going to be more important to him than any labels or anyone else's opinion."

McKinnon won't speculate what he will do when this job is finished. He says he has no great desire to work in partisan-plagued Washington -- even if there is a Bush White House. He has an option to return to the Austin-based political consulting firm he left when he took the Bush job.

Other possibilities appear to be unlimited. He could be hired as the official videographer of the Bush administration and maybe have his work displayed for eternity at a George W. Bush presidential library. Or he could get out of politics again entirely and become a documentary filmmaker. He admits to having a half-shot documentary squirreled away somewhere. Goodness knows he would be able to find investors for any project he wants to do. All he would have to do is go down the list of contributors to the Bush campaign.

"No matter what happens," McKinnon says, "this will have been a great professional and personal experience for me."

And the future?

"I believe so strongly in Governor Bush," McKinnon says, "that I would cut the lawn at the Mansion if he asked me to."

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