NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Dukes
The movie opens with a quote from Ross Perot: “War has rules. Mud wrestling has rules. Politics has no rules.”
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is preparing to give a speech to a group of supporters. He is the Congressman of the 14th District of North Carolina, and he’s about to run for his fifth consecutive term, unopposed.
As a Republican, his main tenets are “America, Jesus, Freedom,” and his catchphrase is “Taking Care of Business.” A montage of campaign efforts ensues, which mostly involves Cam telling farmers, businessmen, and even Filipino carnies that they are the “backbone of America..
Cam sees a trashy blond girl in the crowd and has sex with her in a Porta Potty. She becomes his mistress. He leaves her an extremely filthy message on an answering machine, but unfortunately, he called the wrong number and the machine belonged to a Christian conservative family. Due to the resulting scandal, he slips significantly in the polls.
Cut to the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), glad-handing at a political event. They are trying to find a politician to support a bill that will allow them to put “Made in America” on their products that are actually made in China. They see Cam Brady on the news and decide they should steal his seat and replace him with somebody who will pass whatever bills they need. They have a close friend name Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox), and they think his son Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) would be a good candidate.
Marty lives in a small town in North Carolina called Hammond, where he works as a tour guide. He has two pugs, a wife named Mitzi (Sarah Baker), two chubby sons, and he’s rather effeminate and wears sweater vests. He is very excited when his father Raymond calls him with the idea of running for office. Raymond always thought Marty was an idiot and treated him like garbage, and Marty is anxious to prove himself and to help his hometown.
Cut to the Motch Brothers' factory in China. The Motch Brothers are obsessed with increasing profits, and they think they can save money on shipping if they move their Chinese sweatshops to Hammond. They just have to find a way around the wage and environmental regulations.
Eight weeks until the election: Cam Brady is putting his name on the ballot, a formality since again he is unopposed in his running. Marty enters the room, surprising everybody. He adds his own name to the ballot. Cam snickers because Marty looks so goofy compared to Cam’s slick politician style. Cam’s wife (Katherine LaNasa) warns him not to get complacent.
Marty sits down to dinner with his wife and kids. He tells his family they will be under a lot of media scrutiny soon, so if they have any secrets they want to get off their chests, now’s the time. His innocent-looking wife and children tell him a variety of rather scandalous confessions.
Cam calls and invites Marty to a “courtesy lunch.” It’s being held by the Hammond Business Organization. Cam very cordially introduces his opponent Marty to the crowd, and Marty gives a short, awkward speech. Then Cam says, “I almost forgot your bio.” Cam plays a video introducing Marty and his family that is obviously designed to make Marty look as stupid as possible. Everyone laughs. Marty is extremely upset.
As Marty gets in his car to leave, he is surprised to see a man named Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) in his back seat. The Motch Brothers have sent Tim to run Marty’s campaign. He completely redecorates Marty’s house, gives a makeover to Marty, Mitzi, and the kids, and even provides them with new dogs (a chocolate lab and golden retriever). He trains Marty how to walk, speak, and act like a politician.
Five weeks until the election: Cam and Marty meet at a high school for a political debate. As they shake hands, they engage in a little trash talk. Cam starts the debate with his usual spiel, and is surprised when Marty cuts him to shreds with his rebuttal. Marty’s platform is that he will “clean up Washington” and his catchphrase is “It’s a Mess!” The crowd loves it.
After the debate, Cam and Marty race to kiss the nearest baby. They try to trip each other up, and Cam is so pissed that he swings a huge punch at Marty. Marty ducks and Cam punches the baby right in the face. It’s a big scandal all over the news.
Cam counters the scandal with two political ads, one showing off his hot mistress and the other accusing Marty of being Al Qaeda / Taliban.
Four weeks until the election: Cam and Marty engage in another debate. Cam continues accusing Marty of terrorism. Marty calls Cam out for being a fake Christian, and asks him to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Cam attempts to do so, but isn’t even close. He tries to rehabilitate his image by singing in a gospel choir and visiting a church of snake handlers. He’s bit by a rattlesnake and his arm puffs up five times its normal size. Somehow this only increases his popularity.
Marty’s wife Mitzi misses him. She chastises him for spending so much time away from the family. Marty engages in a good old-fashioned family fun night of junk food, dancing, and Nerf fights. They are interrupted by Tim who yells at everybody and is rude to Mitzi. When Marty doesn’t stand up for his family, Mitzi takes the kids to stay at her parents’ house.
Meanwhile, Cam’s son tells him that he is planning to run for class president. When Cam asks what his platform will be, his son says nobody cares about that stuff, and he’ll just slander his opponent. Cam feels guilty when he hears this and visits Marty to try to make amends. Marty feeds Cam his best bourbon, and Cam gets drunk and tells Marty how he first got into politics in the 5th grade when they had a horrible rusty jungle gym that would scratch the crap out of all the kids. Cam ran for class president so he could tear down the jungle gym.
When Cam leaves he is extremely drunk. Tim has been waiting in the kitchen, and he tells Marty to call the cops and report Cam. Marty does. Cam is pulled over and tries to bribe the cop, then flees. He steals the cop car and crashes into a cow. He knows Marty set him up and is furious.
Fourteen days until the election: At yet another debate, Cam and Marty attack each other. Marty uses a “communist manifesto” about “rainbow land” that Cam wrote in the 2nd grade to make Cam look stupid. The crowd is so divided that a brawl breaks out. Cam attacks Marty and again Marty ducks so Cam punches a dog in the face instead. It happens to be the dog from the movie “The Artist,” so again there is a big scandal.
Cam has dropped 5 points in the polls, and his wife and kids leave him. Marty runs an ad showing that Cam’s son is so lonely that he actually called Marty “Dad.” To get even, Cam decides to sleep with Marty’s wife Mitzi. He shows up at her house and seduces her, which is easy because she’s been feeling so neglected by Marty. He videotapes the whole thing and releases it as a campaign ad / sex tape. Cam goes up in the polls, but his longtime campaign manager Mitch (Jason Sudeikis) thinks he has gone too far and leaves. Cam replaces him with a random intern.
Marty is furious at Mitzi. On Tim’s advice, he kicks her out of the house. Then he heads to a hunting party and shoots Cam right in the leg. Marty pretends it’s an accident and goes up in the polls.
Ten days until the election: Marty meets with the Motch Brothers and his father Raymond. Raymond is finally proud of Marty. The Motch Brothers explain their plan to sell Hammond to China, and open three sweatshop factories with imported Chinese workers (they call it “in-sourcing”). They tell Marty to request EPA waivers and concessions on minimum wage so their project can go through. Marty refuses. He genuinely wants to help Hammond. He tells Raymond, “You were never there for me. This town was.”
The Motch Brothers need a new plan. They say, “Marty is done. We need a new fresh voice. And he’s been in front of us all along.” They send Tim to Cam’s house. Tim organizes a huge show with dancers and rock stars to rehabilitate Cam’s image. Cam’s wife returns and he’s on billboards all over the city.
Meanwhile, Marty has gone back to his old clothes, and his old genuine self. He’s down 8 points in the polls. It’s the last day before the elections, and it seems like he can’t possibly win. Mitzi returns to help and apologizes for sleeping with Cam. Marty apologizes for ignoring her and getting so caught up in campaigning. They try to formulate a plan to save their town.
Election Day: Cam is ahead, but the day isn’t over. Marty spends his last penny to put out a final political ad. He reveals the secret of his former corporate backing and promises that he’ll never take money from an outside interest again. He says he’ll be entirely honest if he’s elected, and to prove it, he tells his most intimate secrets for everyone to hear. His constituents are so inspired that they confess their deep dark secrets to each other as well. Everyone feels better. Marty says, “Telling the truth feels good. It’s what this country was built on.” He is up huge in the polls.
The winner of the congressional race is announced, and it’s Cam, but only because the ballot boxes are operated by Motch Global and they rigged the results. Cam is super happy to win, until he sees how devastated Marty is. Marty says, “I love my home. You know, I voted for you in the 5th grade because I knew you’d fix the jagged jungle gym. You were the voice of the people then.”
Cam gets up to give his acceptance speech. He says, “I’m a great politician. But I’m a terrible congressman. I took money from Motch. I sold the 14th district to China. I shouldn’t be up here - Marty should.” Cam withdraws from the race so Marty can win by default. Mitch is proud of Cam, and they reconcile.
Marty gets up on the podium and vows to do good. He says, “I’m bringing my broom to Washington, because it’s a mess!”
Six months later: the Motch brothers are watching as yet another congressman in their pocket buries himself with a sex scandal. The doorbell rings. They are served with a subpoena for finance campaign illegalities. Marty has launched an inquiry to take them to task.
The credits rolls. Midway through the credits we see the Motch brothers standing before the committee to defend themselves. They point out that the Citizen’s United Ruling means that their shady dealing is not actually illegal. Marty says that is true, but they are also guilty of aiding and abetting Tim Wattley, who is apparently an international fugitive / terrorist called “The Greek Butcher.” The Motch brothers are led away in handcuffs. Meanwhile, Cam thanks Marty for making him chief of staff.