by Paul Heintz
Have you heard the one about Rusty DeWees running for Congress?
In recent weeks, the actor and comedian better known to Vermonters as "the Logger" has been talking up the notion that he might run for public office — potentially for the U.S. House seat currently held by Congressman Peter Welch, a four-term Democrat from Norwich.
Asked last week whether he indeed harbored political ambitions, DeWees was circumspect — peppering his answers with plenty of "ifs," "coulds" and "mights." But he certainly didn't labor to put the rumors to rest.
"I'm all over the state. Literally, it's basically a 17-year campaign," the Elmore resident said of his comedy career. "I feel that people don't come to my shows anymore because I'm funny. I feel they come because they know me. And [running for office] would put me in a position to help all these people. So that's what's intriguing about the thought of that."
He added, "If I get five calls a week as an entertainer, how many calls would I get if I were a congressman or senator or dog catcher or fence viewer?"
So what office does the Logger covet?
DeWees said he's unlikely to run for the U.S. Senate, acknowledging that it'd be mighty tough to beat Sens. Patrick Leahy or Bernie Sanders ("But jeezum crow," he said, "they could pass away in their chair."). Nor is he interested in running for governor ("I think the governor thing seems like it's less my speed than being part of a larger group. You're not really representing Vermonters. You're making decisions for them.")
What about the U.S. House?
"If I was taking a big bite, that would be it," DeWees said. "But return to what I said: It could be dog catcher. It could be anything."
Okay, got it. Dude might run for some kind of office, someday. Maybe. So why are we writing about him again?
Well, our phone interview with DeWees took place last Friday. By Monday he was appearing on WCAX's evening interview show, "The :30," to talk about... running for office.
At least, that's what co-anchor Kristin Carlson wanted to talk about.
Again and again, she asked the same question: Are you running for office? And again and again, DeWees acted baffled, fronting like he had no idea what she was talking about. He even went so far as to mock Carlson for asking about what was clearly the agreed-upon topic of the interview.
After mentioning his various civic activities (speeches to school kids, delivering meals on wheels, public service), he told Carlson, "Now somehow you got a whiff of that public service part of it and you got all excited. You put your little blue flower on and everything. I don't know why. All those are 'ifs.'"
(You really have to watch the full interview.)
After feigning disinterest again and saying "it's not, like, on the table, no, no, no," DeWees changed his tune when Carlson asked a third time whether he'd ever run.
"Absolutely. If that's one of the things that can help," he said. "It's about helping Vermonters — as many as you can, as quickly as you can. You know, more specific ways than I'm able to with 'the Logger.' So that's definitely on the table. But it's not a thing that's the next step, necessarily. But yes, I would consider that, for sure."
So what to make of Rusty's trial balloon?
Welch didn't have much to say about the matter. His office declined to comment. (Disclosure: I used to work as Welch's spokesman.)
Former governor Jim Douglas, who recently went to lunch with DeWees and discussed the idea with him, also attempted to decline comment.
"I don't know if I can confirm or deny that," Douglas said, helpfully adding, "I try to eat three times a day, if I can."
But asked how he thought DeWees would fare if he ran, Douglas sounded a positive note.
"I think he'd be very good," the ex-gov said. "He's not typical, but frankly I'm not sure everybody who's typical has been successful. I think Rusty has a great feel for this state, the people who live here. If he decided to get involved in some different way, I think he'd be very good at it."
Indeed, DeWees knows the state well — and the state knows him. Here's how my colleague Megan James put it last week in a highly entertaining story about the Logger's recently-completed, 14-show tour of all seven Vermont correctional facilities:
After a recent jail show, DeWees said, he got four Facebook messages from inmates’ wives telling him how much their husbands loved it. Even in jail, he’s building his fan base.
And, indeed, the colorful, occasionally profane comedian ("Shit, I thought that dude was a bitch," James quotes DeWees as saying to a Charles Manson look-alike during the prison tour) would make quite the foil to the somewhat stilted Welch, who occasionally gives off a generic congressman vibe.
Of his potential opponent, DeWees says Welch is "the nicest frickin' dude," adding, "I couldn't imagine how there could be a more pleasant guy. As far as the votes he's casting down there and the little things he does up here on the weekends, I really don't know."
So is DeWees Vermont's own Al Franken, Jesse Ventura or Arnold Schwarzenegger — successfully converting his entertainment franchise into a political career? Is he the next Stephen Colbert — disingenuously dangling the notion of running for office to bolster his comedy routine? Or is he the next Fred Tuttle — drawing cult support for a run and then dropping out before seeing it to completion?
"If it happened, it would not be a gag," DeWees insists. "It's not going to be 'ha ha ha, funny guy out there.' People wouldn't be voting for the Logger. They'd be voting for Rusty DeWees."
No doubt that's true, but in his debut as a MAYBE POSSIBLY political candidate, he's struggled to articulate exactly why he'd run.
"I'm really engaged in health — physical and mental health," he told Seven Days when asked what issues light his fire. "I think that if I was out there, you'd pick something. Boy, I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't have something to do with that."
Asked by Carlson what concerns he heard from Vermonters as he traveled the state, DeWees answered, "Jobs, prices of things, the cost of things. I do a lot with the high school kids, so college, you know, affordability for college, just the same things you're always reporting and everybody hears, you know."
Oh, those things!
As for what political party he'd represent?
"Who knows what that would be," he told Seven Days. "I would just take a guess and say I would be running with an 'I' as an independent."
And as for his ideological underpinnings? "I wouldn't even get near that."
Huh. But he's running, right?
"Overall, it's like, I gotta tell you, the chances of my running for office are little more than zero, because I've got a great thing going on," he said.
Got it. Forget you ever read this.
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