November 04, 1985 12:00 PM

City politicians are notorious for hurling epithets at their opponents in the heat of a close campaign. But these days one of the four men running for mayor of Boise, Idaho isn’t going off half-baked when he calls his latest rival “Mr. Potato Head.” He is merely using the proper form of address for the seven-foot spud who registered his candidacy at City Hall on September 27. In a combination prank (by some students at Boise State) and publicity stunt (by Hasbro toys), the 35-year-old children’s plaything has been billed alternately as the first vegetable and the first toy to run for public office.

The capital of the state known for its underground economy has taken to this unspoiled favorite in a big way. Why, just the other week the raw political recruit had a parade down Main Street as well as Idaho’s highest honor, a 21-potato salute. In return, the talkative tuber, portrayed in public by actor Marc Grayson in a fiberglass costume, has been buttering up voters all over town. Presenting himself as “a man of the soil,” Mr. Potato Head is full of “down-to-earth promises” that include the weeding out of pessimism and the planting of optimism in Boise, which he affectionately calls “the land of my roots.” In an emotional plea for votes, he also mentions making the world a better place for his newborn son, Chip.

Mr. Potato Head’s a-peeling personality seems to have forestalled the mudslinging, backbiting and dirty dealing that have become staple fare in modern American politics. Outgoing Mayor Richard Eardley has endorsed the earthy candidate, and in a rare display of competitive largesse, rival Dick Kempthorne freely offered this advice to the idealistic newcomer: “Go in with your eyes open, stay thick-skinned and try to stay out of hot water.” Obviously Kempthorne is unafraid of getting mashed in the polls next Tuesday, although at last report Mr. Potato was definitely a head.

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