Does he or doesn't he?
Eat meat, that is.
More exactly, does Walter Mondale eat red meat, and, if so, is he eating it on his campaign plane?
That may not be a burning question on quiche-eating Capitol Hill, but it's been turning heads in Iowa, as might be expected in one of the largest beef- and pork-producing states in the nation.
It all started earlier this month when a Marriott Corp. catering official at National Airport told a Washington Post reporter that Mondale's refusal to eat red meat was creating problems for the company, which stocks his campaign plane.
The gravy thickened when Sen. Roger Jepsen, a Republican running for reelection in Iowa, included the quotation in a press release attacking the Democratic presidential candidate. "Mondale's refusal raises serious questions about how faithfully he would represent the farm state of Iowa," Jepsen said.
That left the Mondale camp sizzling. "Not true," said Maureen Plunkett, deputy press secretary to Joan Mondale. "He eats steak and roast beef, and one of his favorite meals is a cheeseburger."
Some Iowans greeted the controversy with something of a yawn, according to Iowa Farm Bureau spokesman Glee Mulder. "I heard about it. But the general farm economy being what it is, I think people here are more interested in credit and interest rates."
The Mondale campaign in Iowa issued its own tongue-in-cheek press release: "Mondale campaign workers were discovered dining at the Iowa Steak House last night, chomping wildly on prime cuts of beef . . . . 'Why is Jepsen picking on us?' " the release quotes Paul Johnson, Mondale's Iowa campaign manager, as saying. "I know for a fact that Fritz loves a good cheeseburger and the Iowa staff is into Dairy Queen hotdogs big time."
And yesterday, to bring the issue full circle, Marriott ate crow.
"It's a mistake," Marriott spokesman Terry Souers said.