A Democratic Representative from Colorado at the time of his appointment, Russell was initially derided by some of the senior West Wing staff as mediocre, shallow, and a tool of Colorado mining interests. Russell's dismissive nickname around Washington was "Bingo Bob", and he was often referred to as "the Congressman from the Western Colorado Mining Company". Russell served on the House Energy Committee with future Speaker Jeff Haffley.
Russell claims that he wears cowboy boots because of flat feet but Josh Lyman suggests that it's a transparent attempt to appear "folksy".
Once confirmed as Vice President, Russell soon established himself as an ambitious and shrewd politician with a wry awareness of his own shortcomings. Russell often used self-deprecating humor to try to get past his dullness, such as stating, "Bob Russell is so dull his Secret Service codename is Bob Russell." (A nod to real life Vice President Al Gore; for years he used the line "Al Gore is so boring his Secret Service codename is 'Al Gore.'")
After the resignation of Vice President John Hoynes due to a sex scandal in May 2003, the Bartlet Administration was required to nominate a replacement, in accordance with the provisions of the 25th Amendment. President Jed Bartlet's first choice was Lewis Berryhill, his Secretary of State, played by William Devane. However, Berryhill's nomination was opposed by House and Senate Republicans, along with more than a few Democrats, most notably the Senate Minority Leader.
With a great deal of reluctance, Bartlet appointed Bob Russell, whom he selected after Congressional Republicans, who were in the majority, made it clear that they would not confirm a more viable candidate -- one who could conceivably win the upcoming election to choose Bartlet's successor. Bartlet decided that Russell's was the least objectionable name on the list provided by Speaker of the House Jeff Haffley, which included several even more politically unappealing individuals.
After Bartlet informs his staff, Toby Ziegler and Will Bailey attempt to prepare Bartlet's announcement speech, which he intends to deliver at a White House Rose Garden press conference. Since Will and Toby regard Russell as a nonentity, they have difficulty preparing proper remarks speech. As an inside joke to start their creative process, they write the speech they wish Bartlet could give:Toby: Here's what it should be. In a triumph of the middling, a nod to mediocrity, and with gorge rising, it gives me great nausea to announce Robert Russell - Bingo Bob himself - as your new Vice President.
Will: This lapdog of mining interests is as dull as he is unremarkable.
Toby: As lackluster as he is soporific...
Toby: This reversion to the mean...
Will: This rebuke to the exemplary...
Toby: Gives hope to the millions unfavored by the exceptional...
Toby: The Vice Presidency, being famously once described as not being worth a warm bucket of spit; let's now hock a big loogie for Bob Russell. Not the worst. Not the best. Just what we're stuck with.
Toby and Will later complete a speech appropriate to the occasion. When Bartlet and Russell begin the press conference, Bartlet realizes that the joke speech has been mistakenly loaded into the Teleprompter; Russell senses Bartlet's momentary hesitation at the start of his speech, leans over to view the Teleprompter, and also realizes what has happened. Bartlet then ad libs a nomination speech of his own and introduces Russell.
Following the press conference, Russell confronts Will and Toby, who apologize and are prepared to be reprimanded or fired. Instead, Russell tells them their joke speech was hilarious and asks for a copy. He goes on to tell them that he is well aware of his own reputation, but since he is now a member of Bartlet's team, it's incumbent on them to help rehabilitate his image.
In the political primary season, he vied with Hoynes and U.S. Representative Matt Santos of Texas for the Democratic presidential nomination during the 2006 election. After a strong early start as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Russell lost the crucial California Democratic primary, and several later primaries, to Santos. Russell offered Santos and then Pennsylvania Gov. Eric Baker the opportunity to be his running mate, but both declined. After several deadlocked ballots at the Democratic National Convention and a rousing speech from Santos, President Bartlet threw his support to Santos, as did a key teachers' union leader, which secured the nomination for Santos, with former White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry as his running mate.
Russell's chief of staff and later campaign manager was Will Bailey. Donna Moss also joined his campaign staff, eventually rising to become press secretary. Bailey later became White House Communications Director following the dismissal of Toby Ziegler for a national security violation, while Moss moved over to the Santos campaign.
Late in the presidential campaign, Santos became frustrated with Russell's apparent unwillingness to campaign for him. But Russell did eventually campaign for Santos in his own home state of Colorado, a state which was subsequently carried by Santos in the election. Russell offered to continue as Vice President to Santos, after Democratic vice presidential nominee Leo McGarry died on the night of the presidential election, but Santos tactfully declined the offer. Bob Russell is last seen at the Bartlett staff goodbye party commenting to Will Bailey that McGarry's recent death had caused him to reflect on his own mortality.
Before ascending to the Vice Presidency, Russell represented a Congressional district in Western Colorado, most likely the Colorado 3rd. He justified his close relationship with the local mining interests because the local mining company, West Co, employed five times as many of his constituents as any other company in the district, but was attacked in the 2006 Democratic primaries by the Hoynes campaign and Common Cause for his support of mining interests. Russell also had an in-depth knowledge of nuclear weapons technology, because the Colorado Plateau is the US's leading source of uranium, and was able to assist in the Bartlet Administration's efforts to discover which nation carried out a nuclear test in the Indian Ocean. Bartlet said that Russell's voters had re-elected him four times, which indicates that he is a fifth term congressman and was probably first elected in 1994. This was confirmed when it was stated that Russell had voted to renew the embargo on Cuba in 1996, meaning he would have been first elected in 1994.
As Vice President, Russell was often used by the Bartlet Administration to work with the Republicans during disputes, due to his relationships and relative popularity with Republican leaders such as Speaker Haffley. On such issues, Russell would sometimes disagree with the Bartlet Administration, including during the government shutdown, the Gaza Crisis and on gay marriage during another budget dispute. Russell's position on gay marriage was that while gay rights were advancing gradually, pushing for marriage rights too quickly would cause a backlash, so he was inclined to oppose the amendment. As a Congressman, Russell also had a strong reputation for his opposition to flag burning, co-sponsoring the Flag Burning Amendment every time it came before Congress, and strongly considered speaking out when a flag was apparently burnt in the White House. During the primaries, Russell campaigned on his support for ethanol fuel and abortion rights. Russell also supported gun control, attacking rival John Hoynes for his strong pro-gun record, although Russell was also an avid hunter who often hunted with the Governor of Montana. When the California legislature passed a law to not allow illegal immigrants driver's licenses, Russell came out in favor of it. When US foreign policy in relation to Cuba became a campaign issue, Russell took a hardline stance, re-affirming his support for sanctions and saying he would not rule out military action in order to bring about democratic change there. Russell was popular in the West and Midwest and was able to win many states in those regions in the primaries, believing that he would also be able to do so in the general election against Arnold Vinick (with his prospective running mate, Baker, hopefully being able to secure Pennsylvania and the traditional blue states in the Northeast, thus winning the election).