Fred Tuttle: One candidate hoping to lose this NovemberBy Bill Delaney/CNN
GRANVILLE, Vermont (October 22) -- Somewhere north of the Potomac River, well beyond shouting distance of the latest political blood-letting in Washington, D.C., is a place known for its misty mountains' majesty, where watching the leaves turn is a national rite of fall. But among Vermont's white picket fences, country stores and Holstein cows is a gentle man named Fred Tuttle, who this fall happens to be running for the U.S. Senate.
In a mean political season, the 79-year-old former dairy farmer is uncommonly sweet. In fact, he's running against a man he can't seem to find a bad word to say about, Vermont's incumbent senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy.
And Tuttle's campaign stops are anything but typical. At an elementary school in Granville, Tuttle -- dressed in overalls, sneakers and a blue baseball cap that simply reads "FRED" -- sits next to Leahy as if they were running on the same ticket.
When a child asks Tuttle if he would like to be a senator, Tuttle doesn't quite hear the question so Leahy helps him out.
"Would you like to be a senator?" Leahy repeats to Tuttle.
"Yeah, I would, but later on, later on, when I get older," Tuttle tells the amused class.
This is politics, for once, practiced without much of a purse, no porno and as for power, well, Tuttle is not too interested in the influence of a seat on Capitol Hill.
"Washington itself, I wouldn't care for it myself. We stayed in Washington. I don't like it," Tuttle says in his matter-of-fact style. "We'd have to live there and I wouldn't like that."
Tuttle became a sort-of politician in 1996, via his starring role in a locally produced cult film "Man With a Plan."
In the movie Tuttle plays the aptly named Fred Herman Tuttle, an aging, down-on-his-luck Vermont dairy farmer who decides to run for Congress. In director John O'Brien's critically acclaimed film the earthy Tuttle and his country charm triumph without money or power.
In the wake of the film's success O'Brien convinced Tuttle to challenge a recently transplanted millionaire from Massachusetts, Jack McMullen, in the Republican primary. With a campaign war chest totalling $201, Tuttle defeated McMullen, garnering 55 percent of the primary vote.
A whiff of controversy has drifted in here, though. A few editorials have criticized Tuttle for not being up enough on a few of his own campaign positions. The trouble with that is an awful lot of Vermonters say they're sick of political know-it-alls anyway.
"I think we find Fred very refreshing, very honest," says Vermont voter Eileen Day.
As for Leahy, pit-bull politics this race isn't.
"We're over having dinner at their home. We're sitting around chatting," Leahy says. "There is nothing like this in the country. But I've got to admit, I kind of like it."
Tuttle has hammered out a few positions.
On money, Tuttle says, "Too much money in politics."
On the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Tuttle says, "I don't believe that should ever have come out on the air. I don't think it's anybody's business."
Still, having endorsed Leahy for re-election, what really concerns Tuttle about election day is his worst-case scenario: victory.
Winning "sure is a problem," he says.
But more than a few Vermonters may think these days, they could do a lot worse.
Thursday, October 22, 1998
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