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US midterms Tuesday, 27 October, 1998, 10:36 GMT
Fred Tuttle: Man with a plan?
By BBC News Online's Jane Black

No matter how gloomy a candidate's prospect, he usually can count on at least one vote - from himself.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Not in Vermont. Republican senate candidate Fred Tuttle says he's voting for his opponent, the three-term Democrat Sen Patrick Leahy.

Fred Tuttle is not alone. His wife Dottie is voting for Mr Leahy and so is his campaign manager. The latest polls show Mr Leahy leading with more than 60% of the vote.

It's no secret that losing will suit Fred Tuttle just fine. The 79-year-old retired dairy farmer, has repeatedly told reporters that he hopes he doesn't win. Victory would mean he'd have to move to Washington.

"I never hated a place so bad in my life," he says in a thick Vermont country accent.

But while he may not win, statements like these - plus a down-home world view and virtually no political views - have made Fred Tuttle Vermont's favourite cultural icon.

The political longshot probably won't upset the Washington establishment. but his bid for Senate is turning the art of political campaigning on its head.

Man with a plan

John O'Brien
Fred Tuttle's run for Senate began as a protest against millionaire Jack McMullen.

Mr McMullen is a Massachussetts native who owns a second home in Vermont. Many, including Fred Tuttle,saw his bid as a shameful attempt to buy his way into the election.

Against all odds - and with only $200 - Fred Tuttle challenged and beat the Harvard-educated McMullen in the Republican primary. Mr McMullen spent almost $250,000 in his losing effort.

It's a case of life imitating art.

Mr Tuttle first gained fame in the film, Man With A Plan. Directed by his neighbour and current campaign manager John O'Brien, it is the story of a fictional version of Fred Tuttle who realises that the only way to pay his tax bill and pay for his 94-year-old father's hip operation is to run for Congress.

After all, he says, it's the only job in America that requires no previous experience or education and pays $129,500 per year.

In the film, his character's party affiliation is Regressive; his campaign slogan: "Why Not?"; his platform: FRED or "Friendly, Renewable, Extraterrestrial, Dinky".

Except for his party affiliation, Fred Tuttle's platform and slogan haven't changed.

"I'm like anybody else," Fred Tuttle said. "Years ago, real estate was quite cheap. But Vermont has a lot of new people moving in and there are not many farms left. I'd like to bring the local people back."

But when asked how he would do that, he answered: "I don't really know. Get more jobs. Yeah, get more jobs and not have education cost so much. Poor people can't hardly pay taxes let alone education."

Voting against the system

Sen Patrick Leahy
Fred Tuttle's campaign has garnered a lot of media attention. But John O'Brien says that the news media is largely missing the point.

"Everybody has covered Fred Tuttle because it is an amazing story of a dairy farmer turned movie star turned real candidate but the press has not focused on the point of how this race will affect campaign finance reform."

Money talks, but in this case, it's by understatement. The Tuttle campaign will spend $251 on the senate race - for the 251 towns in Vermont.

Mr O'Brien doesn't expect to start a new trend in campagn underfinancing. When the election is over, he plans to start editing his next film - the third part of his Vermont trilogy.

Called Nosy Parker, it will star one of Fred Tuttle's neighbours, George Lyford, as a vigilant property tax assessor trying to break up local "dens of iniquity".

Vermont assessors should keep their eyes on their jobs.

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