Magazine article The Spectator

Where the Locals Rule

Magazine article The Spectator

Where the Locals Rule

Article excerpt

New Hampshire

SENATOR Patrick Leahy isn't bothering with `attack ads' this time round. Up for reelection in Vermont, he's running a commercial showing himself dozing under a sunhat as his skiff drifts lazily across the shimmering waters of Lake Champlain as well it might: Senator Leahy is about the one Democrat in next month's elections who doesn't have to fret about whether it might be wise to declare that the President's behaviour is 'indefensible', or maybe that it's 'indefensible' but that the country wants to `put this behind us', or some other finely calibrated formulation. Senator Leahy is uniquely insulated from November's great imponderable because his Republican opponent is Fred Tuttle.

Whether Fred Tuttle is, strictly speaking, a Republican is a moot point. But he's won the Republican nomination for the Senate race and that's what matters. This is the first time Fred, a 79-year-old dairy farmer from Tunbridge (Vermont), has run for public office, unless you count a small independent film his neighbour directed in which he played a 79-year-old dairy farmer from Tunbridge who decides to run for Congress. His performance as a 79-year-old dairy farmer is superb; whether his performance as a senator would be as persuasive is a more fraught question. He's old, lame, weather-beaten, and has an (American) north-country accent so broad that most of his doting interviewers from the national press can't understand a word he says - which doesn't matter, as most of it's just generic Yankee folk gibberish.

On the night of the primary elections a couple of weeks back, he told his cheering supporters, `Vermont, you call collect and I'll accept the charges' - a potentially ruinous offer, given that he has vowed to hold the total cost of his campaign to $251 (a buck for each town in the state) and that he lives on $212 a month veteran's pension. On the other hand, that same evening, over in his own campaign headquarters in a swanky hotel in Burlington, Jack McMullen, the man he defeated for the Republican nomination, tried to make the traditional courtesy call offering congratulations to Fred's campaign headquarters at Tunbridge Town Hall, only to discover that Tunbridge Town Hall doesn't have a phone. Fred's $251 spending limit looks safe.

The old boy owes a lot to his opponent: Jack McMullen is a multimillionaire with an MBA from Harvard who was a resident of Massachusetts until a few months ago. He's had a summer home in the state for years, but the Fredheads had no trouble painting him as 'a suntanner from away', and Mr McMullen walked cheerfully into every trap. At the campaign 'debate', Fred slid a list of Vermont towns across the table and invited his opponent to pronounce them: instead of rhyming Calais with Dallas, Mr McMullen rendered it as its French namesake. When he's dead like Queen Mary, you'll find 'Calais' engraved on his heart - that and a milking stool, for, after the pronunciation debacle, Fred delivered a killer follow-up: how many teats does a cow have? Six, said Jack, confidently taking the bull by the horns and getting gored to pieces.

So on 8 September Fred Tuttle won the Republican Senate primary by 5,000 votes. Jack McMullen blew 450,000 bucks including a quarter-million of his own dough - to lose to an old coot who decided that, after a lifetime of dairying in Vermont, he could spare just 16 dollars for his campaign to win the nomination. Now, having won it, Fred isn't sure he wants it. He goes out of his way to say how much he likes Senator Leahy, how the Senator's a friend of his, how he's `done a good job', how he'll probably vote for him himself, and how he can't go and live in Washington because his wife, who's also going to vote for her husband's opponent, refuses to leave Tunbridge. That's why Senator Leahy looks so sunnily content floating along in his boat. The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, but come January, Patrick Leahy will still be in the Senate. …

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