Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies Chris Noth and Julianna Margulies

Chris Noth is pumped for the upcoming election. "I love politics!" he crows a few weeks before the presidential showdown. But today he's talking about a fictional Democratic gubernatorial primary in the great state of Illinois — and it's a juicy one. After all, Noth's candidate on the CBS drama The Good Wife, Cook County State's Attorney Peter Florrick, has been known to get a little dirt on his hands. Not to mention a little lipstick on his collar.

"I'm enjoying playing this campaign immensely," the actor says. "Politics is fun stuff to act because there's so much deception. It's terrible in life, but it's great for entertainment. Jules [Julianna Margulies, who plays Peter's wronged wife Alicia] and I are having a good time. The story feels so fresh and new and inspired."

Peter's political plot line had been on simmer for much of last season, but it's at full boil now. Three years after The Good Wife's memorable opening scene — when the chastened Chicago power broker, his wife at his side, publicly admitted to liaisons with hookers — many mea culpas, much shrewd glad-handing and a near-monkish celibacy have brought Peter to the precipice of a triumphant comeback.

But all his success could come crashing down in this week's episode, thanks to a pretty young campaign worker named Indira Starr (Liz Holtan), who's been spreading stories about an affair with her boss. Her latest salvo: a salacious description of a distinctive marking on an intimate part of Peter's anatomy. (Shades of Paula Jones and Bill Clinton...)

Alicia — who's splitting her time between law firm Lockhart/Gardner and her husband's
campaign bus — and Eli Gold (Alan Cumming), Peter's trusted campaign manager, "know the birthmark story is untrue," says Robert King, who created the critically praised drama with his wife, Michelle, "but nonetheless you have to play defense when someone lies in a way that makes you seem ridiculous defending yourself. Chris has some very funny scenes as a politician put in that position." But Peter's not laughing. "Not when it could hurt Alicia, whom he had to guide through these swamps before," says Noth.

Birthmarkgate hits just after Peter gets his first serious primary challenger. A former backer and supposed friend of Alicia, billionaire Maddie Hayward (Maura Tierney), has suddenly declared her own candidacy. "She is very formidable," Noth teases, "but if someone betrays Peter, he won't turn the other cheek. He'll destroy them if he can." 

Owing to its carefully calibrated blend of smarm and charm, the role of Peter Florrick was tough to cast. "Chris is perfect in it," says Michelle King of Sex and the City's ex-Mr. Big. Adds Robert: "Luckily, despite his leading-man looks, he embraced this role immediately. He loves playing ethically compromised people. He sees Peter walking a tightrope, cutting ethical corners but still being a guy the audience finds desirable."

You can put his not-so-estranged wife in that crowd. Exhibit A: the "I trust you" kiss she planted on her surprised husband after Starr's accusations arose. "Power is the aphrodisiac here," notes Margulies. "When Alicia sees Peter at his best — politicking — that's when she falls in love with him. They are great together as a political couple. He can only win with her at his side, and if he wins, she realizes that she wins in her career."

The Kings admit they're "going for the Hillary Clinton dynamic of someone who acknowledges her husband's faults but believes in the bigger mission," Robert says. But the actors suggest there won't be a romantic reconciliation anytime soon. "They have moments where they feel they could be together, but the wound is so deep they can't quite embrace the idea of it," says Noth, adding, "Well, I think he can, but I don't think she can. At some point he's going to say, 'Fine, I'm going to move on.' But I don't think he's ever given up hope."

At this point, his hopes remain higher for his political future. As do those of his consigliere. "Eli sees Peter's political career going further than just being governor of Illinois," muses Cumming. "He believes in Peter. With all the skullduggery and ruthlessness that he employs, he has real political ideals."

Sounds as if there could be a Florrick run for the White House in the not too distant future. President Florrick sounds good to us. President Alicia Florrick, that is.

The Good Wife airs Sundays at 9/8c on CBS.

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