The movie begins with Bud’s (Kevin Costner) daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) fixing breakfast and picking out Bud’s clothes for the day. Bud is still asleep in bed and is obliviously late to take Molly to school. Molly yells at Bud to wake up, but he prefers to stay in bed, even after Molly pulls the sheets of his bed (He uses a t-shirt to cover himself back up).
As Bud and Molly ride in his truck on the way to school, Molly reminds Bud that today is voting day and that she’s already registered him to vote through the mail. Bud doesn’t want to bother with voting, but tells Molly that he’ll meet her at the voting place (a run down Bingo hall) after work. Molly seems happy and tells Bud to sign a voting questionnaire that she has already filled in (in order to make Bud seem more well rounded).
Bud drops Molly off at school and then drives on to the egg packing factory where he works on the assembly line. While he begins to pack the eggs into their cartons, Bud talks with some of his friends about how the company is laying of workers and filling in the empty spots with Mexican workers. Just as he says this, an announcement comes over the intercom in Spanish and one of Bud’s friends tells the group that he can’t even read any of the signs anymore.
After work, Bud gets called into the supervisor’s office to talk. After a bit of a discussion, the supervisor shows Bud a tape from a video camera of Bud drinking a beer behind a stack of egg cartons. After he finishes his beer, Bud leans on the cartons and knocks ALL of them over. In short, Bud is fired from his job.
The movie flashes to Molly’s class, where the kids are giving reports on the values of voting. A reporter has come in to tape the presentations for the nightly news. Molly gets up and presents her report (which was really amazing). The class is dismissed for recess and Molly stays a while to put her report back in her bag. The reporter, Kate Madison (played by Paula Patton) comes over and introduces herself to the teacher and Molly and says that she will use the clip of Molly’s speech for the nightly news.
The movie flashes back to Bud playing fooseball in a bar. Molly’s clip comes on TV and Bud realizes that he forgot to meet Molly at the voting place. He races outside, hits his head on a sign, and crawls into his truck before passing out.
Molly is still sitting outside the voting place were things are starting to close up. Molly waits for Bud another few minutes before checking inside the building again. An old man behind the sign in table sleeps while a woman gets up to take out the trash. While the woman is out of the room, Molly runs in, signs Bud’s name in the sign in book, takes his ballot from the file, and goes in the voting booth to cast Bud’s vote. While she starts to cast the presidential vote, the woman comes back in (this time running a vacuum cleaner) and knocks the plug on the voting machine out of the wall. The machine shuts off and Molly rips off the stub and runs out of the building. She walks back down the street and finds Bud passed out in his truck. Molly drives them both home.
Mean while the presidential candidates are introduced. President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) seeking reelection and Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) plays his opponent. As the news coverage continues, It is said that the election is down to a dead heat race were the number of electoral votes is so close that New Mexico ( where the movie takes place) is the swing state which will decide who becomes the next president. After a break in news coverage, it is said that the vote is confined to one county an eventually trickles down to one person. After a few phone calls, members of New Mexico voting authority learn that Bud’s vote is the one that was not counted and go to see him in person ( in Bud’s trailer).
Molly runs into Bud’s room wearing a night gown and tells Bud that there are some people outside who want to speak with him. Bud, assuming that the people are representatives from child services, Bud gives Molly a rosary and takes a bible with him as he walks to the kitchen. When he sees the two men, he immediately starts to clean up the trailer and tell the men that Molly is in good care, and there is no reason they should try to take Molly away. After the men tell Bud that they are not from child services, Bud relaxes and listens as the men tell him that their from the New Mexico Voting Authority and Bud’s vote was the one that didn’t count and he was required to vote in a timely manor. After the men leave, Molly tells Bud that she is the one who voted for him and the two decide to keep the matter a secret.
The next day, Kate Madison is trying to break the story of Bud’s vote and goes to Bud for an interview. After the interview, Bud becomes a staple in the daily news and thousands of reporters steak out his trailer and follow him wherever he and Molly go.
Both candidates find out that they will win the election as soon as they can win Bud’s vote. And so begins a bribing war between the two candidates.
President Boone brings in Richard Petty to give both Bud and Molly a ride to the airport where Bud and Molly get a tour of the President's Air Force One jet.
Then, Donald Greenleaf brings in Willie Nelson to tell Bud about a ball of sorts to be held in his honor. Bud and his Willie Nelson tribute band (the Half Nelsons) serve as the live entertainment.
Bud continues to rise in popularity throughout the town and Kate Madison goes to Bud for an interview on his political views. Whenever Bud states how he feels on a topic (abortion, border control, etc.) the candidates change their position on the topic and put out new political ads.
Bud doesn’t realize that in his situation, he has the ability to speak out for the people who can’t.
He receives a room’s worth of mail (which he doesn’t see the point in reading) from people who really need him to speak out for their issues. Molly reads many of the letters and replies to the people who need to be heard.
More news coverage floods in saying that Bud is effectively tearing apart the United States by not realizing the gravity of his current position.
Bud forgets all about “Bring your dad to school” day at Molly’s school and when it is Molly’s turn to present she stands up and speaks to the class as tears run down her face. She tells the class that they all probably know who her dad is by now and that he could not be here because he had some very important business to attend to.
After school is over Molly goes to her friend Jed and asks if he could borrow his dad’s car for the evening. Molly and Jed drive to an apartment building. Jed waits in the car and Molly goes into an apartment which we find out is owned by her mother. The Mother, who obviously was not expecting her daughter to show up on her doorstep, begins to tell Molly that she is in no position to take care of Molly at this time. Molly begins to cry. Bud, followed by a caravan of police cars and news vans, parks outside the apartment and comes in and picks Molly up. After an argument between Bud and the Mother, Bud carries Molly outside and they both go back home.
The next day, Molly goes to Kate Madison's house and asks if they could just sit down and talk. She brings out two mugs of hot cocoa and Molly starts telling her the story of how she was the one who voted for Bud. Before she could reveal that information, however, the phone rings and when Kate runs to get it, Molly notices a video camera has been recording her conversation. Disappointed, she runs out the door and back to Bud’s trailer.
After all the bribing has quieted down Bud announces that he will be presiding over a presidential debate so that he can adequately vote for the man who will become the next president.
That night, Molly, with the help of the Kate (Who after looking through some video footage realizes that Molly is the one who actually voted) help Bud sift through the piles of mail and prepare for the debate.
The night of the debate arrives and Bud begins the night with a speech and continues by reading the questions sent in by people from around the country.
The movie ends with Bud FINALLY casting his vote and deciding who the next president of the United States will be.
The movie never officially says who wins the election. It is left up to the watcher to infer.
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