January 9, 2004 -- FORGET Dubya and his Democratic presidential challenger - Showtime wants YOU to run for president.
In "American Candidate," a new summer reality show from Oscar-nominated filmmaker R.J. Cutler ("The War Room"), 12 contestants will run presidential campaigns - complete with political rallies, debates, ads and, of course, mudslinging.
One "candidate" will be voted off each week by viewers (through Internet and phone voting) - the theory being that the winner, or the "American Candidate," proves he/she has what it takes to run for Commander-in-Chief.
"When the show is over and America has whittled down the candidate pool, they'll choose the one person who they would like to see enter the presidential fray," Cutler told The Post.
"Certainly that person will have a shot of announcing his/her candidacy for president.
"Of course they'll be in the unique position of having been on TV for the past three months and having been in the media for much of that time," Cutler said. "We expect they'll spark a grassroots groundswell of support."
Showtime, which announced the show yesterday and opened the "American Candidate" Web site (americancandidate.com), has already received 5,000 requests for applications, Cutler said.
Cutler will winnow the applicants down over the next five months - paying special attention to background checks.
"As with any political competition, the people participating in our show will have their backgrounds scrutinized very heavily," Cutler said. "Their opponents will have access to their records, and the viewing public will certainly know everything there is to know about them."
And what about that reality-show staple - the so-called "challenges" thrown at the contestants?
"They will be the political equivalent of the kinds of challenges you see elsewhere - but will be heightened to underscore what happens in a political campaign," Cutler said.
"We'll go inside the 'war room' aspect - all the fighting, conflicts, decisions over what to do with the opposition's research and when to 'go negative.'
"This is a TV show - we want it to be as entertaining and engaging as possible - with all the drama of a real campaign."
Interested contestants can also call 877-786-2004 for an application.