Fred Tuttle is a retired Vermont farmer running against Pat Leahy for the US Senate. Fred, who knows very little about politics and dropped out of the tenth grade, entered the republican primary as a publicity stunt. He campaigned very little, knew nothing about the issues, and won the GOP primary.
But the Fred Tuttle story is also a case of life imitating art. In 1996, Fred played the part of Fred Tuttle in "Man With A Plan" - a film about a retired Vermont farmer who runs for Congress. The filmmaker, John O'Brien, is also now Fred's campaign manager. Bill Geist reports for CBS Sunday Morning.
Perhaps only in Vermont could a hit film star - not Leonardo Dicaprio or some other heartthrob - but a 79-year-old dairy farmer named Fred. And make no mistake: Fred is a star- - a superstar, really. And then some.
John O'Brien produced Fred's film, Man With A Plan:
"He's a cultural icon, a folk hero, movie star. He's bigger than Elvis"
To Fred, being famous isn't so wonderful:
"We're bothered all the time. Somebody's always calling. You can't go anywhere -can't leave the house.
BILL GEIST: Are you a sex symbol?
FRED TUTTLE: No!
Although Fred does carry on with nymphs in the film, in Vermont, sex goddesses wear long johns.
In the movie, now playing on PBS, Fred's leading role is that of a dairy farmer who runs for congress because he needs the money. Fred studies up, is polished up- he campaigns hard - and somehow wins: a preposterous fairy-tale ending.
We return you now to real life, where Fred's tale becomes even more preposterous. To publicize the film, he is actually running for congress. In the primary, voters thought Fred was less of a joke than real candidates, and Fred won. The republican primary for the US Senate.
TUTTLE: Shocked! I was a little more than shocked. I almost went through the floor. The wife was shocked. Everybody was cheering: "Fred - Fred won Fred won!"
Fred, the high school dropout, beat Jack McMullen, the high falutin' Massachusetts millionaire.
Veteran political reporter Diane Derby witnessed Fred's phenomenal feat:
"There were some very dyed-in-the-wool republicans who just were not going to vote for Jack McMullen because he was widely viewed as a carpetbagger who thought he could move to Vermont and buy a senate race for a million dollars."
In their debate, the candidates were allowed to ask each other questions. Fred asked how many teats were on a cow, no offense. McMulllen said six. There are four. McMullen was finished.
Fred's slapstick comedy movie had become cinema verite. GOP chairman Pat Garrahan says Fred shows people are just fed up with long, expensive, negative campaigns:
"Here's a guy who says he's going to spend $16 and not leave his front porch. There's a certain attractiveness to that."
But Fred must spnd a whopping $251 on the general election and he may even take pack money like he did in the film.
Fred is now up against the popular incumbent senator Pat Leahy - a prohibitive favorite. But our poll shows Fred in a landslide. And, Fred's GOP running mates are jumping on the bandwagon.
Fred is beloved state-wide but faces his toughest challenge in his own home precinct - his own kitchen actually - as this reporter learned in an exclusive interview with his wife, Dottie.
GEIST: Are you a little worried that he might win?
DOTTIE TUTTLE: That scares the devil out of me.
GEIST: Have you made up your mind how you're going to vote in the election?
DOTTIE: I haven't made up my mind, but definitely not for him. (Laughs.) Well, I just don't think he should do it.
GEIST: You don't want Fred to win?
DOTTIE: No. He's not qualified.
And lately Fred's been thinking she may just have a point.
GEIST: You're not sure who you're gonna vote for either.
TUTTLE: No. I'm not. Leahy probably.
But hearing that just makes voters love Fred all the more.
By Bill Geist
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed
Copyright 1998 CBS. All rights reserved.
CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff