Candidate Tarrant starts supper rounds
By Susan Smallheer
Herald Staff | October 14,2005
JON OLENDER / RUTLAND HERALD
U.S. Senate candidate Richard Tarrant makes a stump speech at the Morning Star Café in Springfield on Wednesday evening.
SPRINGFIELD — Bruce Stryhas of Ludlow ate ziti and meatballs Wednesday, all for the benefit of an old friend and fellow St. Michael's College basketball teammate, Richard Tarrant.
Tarrant, a millionaire businessman from South Burlington, is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, and the right to replace retiring U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt.
Tarrant and Stryhas attended St. Michael's College together in the early 1960s and played on a championship basketball team there. The teammates haven't really kept in touch in the past 40 years, Stryhas said, but they run into each other now and then. Vermont's a small place.
Stryhas came to the Tarrant supper event at Morning Star Café in downtown Springfield, and listened to Tarrant introduce himself to mostly strangers.
"He can pick me up on any lies," Tarrant joked.
About 40 people from all over Windsor County came for supper on a rainy night and a chance to meet Tarrant, more than 11 months before the Republican Senate primary, and more than a year before the 2006 election.
Tarrant, who faces a possible four-way Republican primary, is hardly a household name in southern Vermont. Tarrant's best known possible opponent is Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who is considering a run for the Senate as well.
Tarrant stressed his American-boy-makes-good biography. In Tarrant's case, one of the founders of IDX Systems Corp., a medical software company, it is very, very good. IDX was sold to a subsidiary of General Electric two weeks ago for more than $1.2 billion, with Tarrant netting more than $100 million.
But the people who came to dinner Wednesday night in Springfield appeared to like that about Tarrant, and his stated ability to fund a lot of his own campaign.
"He's arrogant, but I like that," said Michael Knoras, a longtime Springfield Republican, who worked his entire career in the machine tool industry. To Knoras, Tarrant's confidence equals success.
"He's a dynamic person; I'm temporarily committed," he said.
"I want to hear all the candidates. I do believe in personal contact," said Terry Gulick, another longtime Springfield Republican.
John Wu of Ludlow, who served in the Reagan administration in the Department of Education, has signed on with the Tarrant campaign, and will probably co-chair the Tarrant campaign for Windsor County.
Wu, who served as the Republican Party's executive director in the 1970s, said that Tarrant gave Vermonters a clear choice "between a socialist and a capitalist."
"He's a perfect example of 'poor boy makes good,'" said Wu, who cited Tarrant's family background — the son of an Irish immigrant — as proof that the millionaire businessman could identify with the ordinary Vermont voter. "He's from the working class; he went to college on a basketball scholarship."
Wu had met Tarrant twice, face-to-face, before Wednesday's supper.
"He has the means to put on a campaign," he said, saying he hadn't seen the level of grassroots organizing since the days of Reagan's presidential campaigns.
Tarrant's campaign manager, Tim Lennon, is overseeing a staff of about five so far. Lennon himself is a veteran of New Hampshire Republican politics, having worked on the 2000 presidential campaign of Arizona's Sen. John McCain and the successful 2002 campaign of former Gov. Craig Benson.
Lennon said the campaign would be hosting suppers at least once a week all over the state, to get people to meet Tarrant, who has never held an elected office.
Tarrant had a few jabs for Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., who is considered the front-runner for the Senate seat.
"He's campaigning with your tax dollars," he told the group, referring to a mass mailing from Sanders that reached most Vermont voters this week.
"That's OK, the only urge stronger than procreation is re-election," he joked with the crowd, who liked his humor.
Tarrant, who listed his credentials as a jobs creator, asked what the job situation was in southern Windsor County, which in the past 20 years has lost thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs.
"Terrible," said one man. "It's the worst it's been in 200 years."
Michael Seely of Dorset and Peter Albertsson of East Rupert came to the Springfield supper and liked what they heard from Tarrant. Both Seely and Albertsson are in business, with Albertsson working on several start-up biotech firms.
"He's a positive person and a problem solver," said Albertsson. "Bernie is a negative person. What has he accomplished except talking a lot. There's a lot of noise from Bernie."
"Rich has accomplished a lot more in his life," Albertsson said.
Seely, a private investor with years of experience in business and finance, said Sanders could be beat.
"Nobody's unbeatable," Seely said, calling Sanders "a demagogue."
"Anybody but Bernie," he said.
Kelly Stettner of Springfield said it was the first time she had met Tarrant and she came away impressed.
"He comes from a real background, and I liked his lack of pretension," she said.
Contact Susan Smallheer at email@example.com.