Pottsie Potts: Underdog with a cause

Russ Potts introduces himself to– well, to just about anyone who crosses his path. "Nice ad," says a potential voter of his pot-banging television commercial that may become a classic.

Potts is injecting a lot of pot banging into the Virginia governor's race, even filing suit against Larry Sabato and the Center for Politics days before its October 9 debate, claiming irreparable harm to his campaign if he's not allowed in the statewide debate. [See news story page xx– editor.]

Potts has to make noise. A recent Mason-Dixon poll shows that 51 percent don't recognize his name, and he trails far behind too-close-to-call Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine, with only 6 percent of those surveyed saying they'd vote for him.

But Potts is nothing if not a glass-half-full kind of guy. "Sixteen percent are undecided with a margin of error of 5 percent," he says of the poll numbers. "We think we're at 12 to 15 percent."

So why is a successful sports promoter and four-term Republican state senator taking the plunge into a statewide race for governor– as an independent?

"My dad was the chairman of the Republican party in Winchester," he explains. "I grew up a Dwight David Eisenhower Republican– not this far-right, radical, extreme element of it." He cites Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum on the national scene.

And in the Old Dominion, "This ticket– Kilgore, Bolling, and McDonnell– represents the most far-right ticket in Virginia history," he says.

Potts wants to add another historical element to Virginia politics: Most of its governors don't come from poverty.

"I had to start paying for food and clothes when I was eight years old," says the man who worked four jobs to pay his way through the University of Maryland. he says.

Potts went to Maryland because it had the closest journalism school he could afford (he also majored in politics), but his career as a sports editor at the Winchester Star was derailed when he got a call from the University of Maryland and accepted a position as director of sports promotion– the first such job nationally, he says.

The school had just hired basketball coach Lefty Driesell, and Potts was so successful promoting Maryland athletics that he went on to become athletic director at Southern Methodist University and later a VP with the Chicago White Sox.

Now Potts is promoting his biggest match ever– one that he hopes will land him in the Governor's Mansion.

He has no qualms about being a spoiler who takes Republican votes from Kilgore. "There's only one way you throw your vote away– by voting for a person you don't believe is the best person," he says.

"If Kilgore loses, it's his own fault," Potts continues. "He wouldn't debate me. He showed his cowardice and lack of conviction."

Indeed, Kilgore has steadfastly refused to debate Potts, and even Larry Sabato's Center for Politics wouldn't let the independent candidate in on a debate unless he showed 15 percent in the polls. "I think it's unfair," says Potts, who took the matter to court.

Despite dismal poll numbers, Potts–his friends call him Pottsie– insists he's in the race to win. "Lots of people want to vote for me because of my straight talking," he says.

And on November 9, the day after the election, "Call and ask," he suggests, "what I think of that upset I just pulled off last night."

Age: 66

What do you like best about Charlottesville? I love to walk over the campus– one of the most beautiful in he nation.

Least? Traffic now. It's going to need a lot to improve it, and I'm the only one with a plan to address it.

Favorite hangout here? Riverside Lunch

Most overrated virtue? Many call intelligence a virtue. People with the least common sense can be the most intelligent.

People would be surprised to know: I have an almost photographic memory of things I read– sports statistics, election statistics. I read 8-10 newspapers a day, and when I'm not campaigning, I read a book a week.

What would you change about yourself? I'd have more patience.

Proudest accomplishment? Being named to the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and raising over $11 million for scholarships for the poor and disadvantaged

People find most annoying about you: I'm impatient and outspoken.

Whom do you admire? Harry Truman. Contemporaries– Rudy Giuliani and John McCain

Favorite book? The Man to See, a biography of Edward Bennett Williams and John Adams by David McCullough

Subject that causes you to rant? The judgmental, holier-than-thou, God-is-on-my-side element in my Republican party

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Birth of my grandson, Duffy, after three daughters and all those god-awful ballet recitals

Biggest 21st-century creep out? 9-11

What do you drive? A 1986 beat-up Pontiac Sunbird convertible

In your car CD player right now: Sinatra

Next journey? I hope a fantastic four years as governor for all Virginians

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Burning the cornstalks down in a field next to a rival school. Seventeen of us got arrested. I led my teammates astray, and the coach was not a happy camper.

Regret: I have very few regrets.

Favorite comfort food: Frozen custard

Always in your refrigerator: Ice cream

Must-see TV: College football

Favorite cartoon: Roadrunner

Describe a perfect day. Sitting on my beautiful screened porch with a cup of coffee, reading the paper or a good book. Turn on Sinatra.

Walter Mitty fantasy: To pull off the biggest upset in the history of Virginia politics

Who'd play you in the movie? Tom Hanks

Most embarrassing moment? I had a date with a young lady in Baltimore. I went to the door, and her mother had to tell me she broke the date.

Best advice you ever got? Governor Lowell Weicker told me the most dangerous candidate in the race is the guy not afraid to lose. I've thrown caution to the wind. I'm not afraid to lose.

Favorite bumper sticker? "Mustang Mania" from SMU and "Russ Potts for Governor"

Russ Potts

Russ Potts