Is it life imitating art, or the other way around?
The final season of "West Wing" featured an ethnic minority presidential candidate, Matt Santos played by Jimmy Smits, running against an older Republican candidate, Arnold Vinnick, played by Alan Alda. Alda's character was considered a maverick because he often went against his party's positions. Sound familiar?
One of the show's former writers says it was no coincidence. Writer and producer, Eli Attie says Smits character was based on Barack Obama. The storyline was first created in 2004, when Obama was just coming on the national scene after delivering a highly regarded speech at the Democratic convention.
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Attie contacted an Obama aide to get more background and wrote Smits' character based on the real-life Illinois politician, who was not yet a senator. So why was the character Latino and not African-American? Because Jimmy Smits had already been cast.