Mus­taches put off vot­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

DES MOINES, IOWA | With­out his mus­tache, Gov. Terry Branstad would be re­duced to stub­ble.

So goes one of the tongue-in-cheek the­o­ries about Mr. Branstad’s decades-old cookie duster, which the Repub­li­can will wear into the Novem­ber elec­tion as he seeks another term in of­fice and a piece of po­lit­i­cal his­tory by ex­tend­ing his record as the na­tion’s long­est-serv­ing gov­er­nor.

Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the mus­tache’s im­pact on the vote.

“Branstad with­out his trimmed lip blan­ket would be po­lit­i­cally dead, be­cause no one would rec­og­nize him,” said St­ef­fen W. Sch­midt, Iowa State Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor.

Jokes aside, when it comes to mus­taches, Mr. Branstad and his fa­cial hair are an out­lier in mod­ern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

Just as bell-bot­toms and thigh-hug­ging bas­ket­ball shorts have be­come fash­ion nonos, the mus­tache — once a tell­tale sign of mas­culin­ity — has fallen on tough times in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, where most elected lead­ers are turn­ing their backs on the Burt Reynolds and Billy Dee Wil­liams look by lop­ping off their fa­cial fur.

“Beards and ’staches are out for now in pol­i­tics,” Mr. Sch­midt said. “I over­heard some solid Iowans at a re­cep­tion this year com­ment about a no­table guest with a beard, say­ing, ‘He looks dirty, don’t you think?’”

Adam Paul Caus­grove, self-de­scribed pres­i­dent and chair­man of the Amer­i­can Mus­tache In­sti­tute, said it is a trou­bling state of af­fairs.

“Re­ally, it is sad,” Mr. Caus­grove said, “be­cause we have a very large de­mo­graphic of mus­tached Americans who just aren’t be­ing rep­re­sented in our cur­rent state of pol­i­tics.”

Mr. Caus­grove, who was named Robert Goulet Memo­rial Mus­tached Amer­i­can of the year in 2012, said it is dif­fer­ent at the grass-roots level.

“On the com­mu­nity level, with so­cial work­ers, you seem to see a lot of fa­cial hair, jeans and boots and flan­nel,” he said. “But once you get into statewide and na­tional pol­i­tics, the spe­cial in­ter­est seems to take over, and they have an almost scripted sort of body that they want to put out there — very generic, very clean-shaven, not as dy­namic as we may have seen in the past.” Oth­ers are OK with the de­cline. “I was in a fra­ter­nity in col­lege, and if some­one was com­ing through with fa­cial hair, he wasn’t get­ting a bid,” said Kevin Broughton, Tea Party Pa­tri­ots spokesman. “With all due def­er­ence to Gov. Branstad and any con­ser­va­tive mem­bers of the, um, ‘Mus­tache Cau­cus,’ furry lips have an air of over­com­pen­sa­tion to me. Ei­ther make a state­ment — like, say, Am­brose Burn­side — or go clean-shaven,” Mr. Broughton said, al­lud­ing to the Civil War gen­eral and later se­na­tor from Rhode Is­land.

It has been more than a cen­tury since a pres­i­dent, Wil­liam Howard Taft, who served from 1909 to 1913, sported a mus­tache. The portly Repub­li­can took the reins from Theodore Roo­sevelt, who had be­come syn­ony­mous with the bat­tle over San Juan Hill in the Span­ish-Amer­i­can War, where he, rid­ing on horse­back, led the Rough Rid­ers with a mus­tache.

Mus­taches, mean­while, are flour­ish­ing in other parts of the world.

“There are a lot of other coun­tries that don’t nec­es­sar­ily have th­ese peaks and val­leys,” Mr. Caus­grove said. “In­dia is a coun­try that we look to and ap­pre­ci­ate. They never seem to ebb.” (New In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi sports a full beard and mus­tache, as did his pre­de­ces­sor.)

Back home, Mr. Branstad and Demo­cratic Gov. John Kitzhaber of Ore­gon are the last re­main­ing gover­nors who are lead­ing their states with nose neigh­bors.

Losses on the Hill

The sit­u­a­tion is just as bleak in the U.S. Se­nate.

The only ‘stache-wear­ing law­mak­ers in the world’s great­est de­lib­er­a­tive body are An­gus King, Maine in­de­pen­dent, and John Ho­even, North Dakota Repub­li­can.

The House, mean­while, also is los­ing some of its most epic mus­taches thanks to a se­ries of re­tire­ments from the likes of Cal­i­for­nia Reps. George Miller and Henry Wax­man.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr., the best-known mus­tache in Pres­i­dent Obama’s Cab­i­net for the past six years, an­nounced last month he was step­ping down.

Still, the Wash­ing­ton scene can boast for­mer U.S. Am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions John Bolton, and the last re­main­ing mus­tache strong­hold on Capi­tol Hill is the Con­gres­sional Black Cau­cus, where about half of the men sport a mus­tache — not even count­ing the goa­tees and beards.

Matt Hickam, a Kansas-based GOP strate­gist, said some cam­paign strate­gists fear that mus­taches make politi­cians look shady and that they carry with them some bad juju. Thomas E. Dewey, who lost to Harry Tru­man in 1948 in the most fa­mous up­set in U.S. po­lit­i­cal his­tory, was mocked as re­sem­bling “the lit­tle man on the wed­ding cake” in part be­cause of his dark mus­tache.

Mr. Hickam also pointed to the 2002 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion in Kansas be­tween Demo­crat Kath­leen Se­be­lius and Repub­li­can Tim Shal­len­burger. “He has a mus­tache, and there were peo­ple who were telling him he needed to shave his mus­tache off be­cause stud­ies show that peo­ple with fa­cial hair are per­ceived as less hon­est, and he said he is not go­ing to shave it off be­cause his wife liked it.”

Mr. Shal­len­burger went on to lose the elec­tion by a 53 per­cent to 45 per­cent mar­gin.

As for Mr. Branstad, he might as well have a lucky rab­bit’s foot sit­ting atop his up­per lip.

He first grew his mus­tache after he got out of the ser­vice in 1971, and the fol­low­ing year he de­cided to run for the Iowa state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“His mother told him that he’d never get elected with a mus­tache,” said Jimmy Cen­ters, a Branstad spokesman. “His wife Chris — then [his] girl­friend — after see­ing pic­tures of him with­out the mus­tache, told him to never shave it. The gov­er­nor kept the mus­tache, won the seat in the Iowa House as a law school stu­dent and has never lost an elec­tion — all with the mus­tache.”

The mus­tache has be­come so linked to Mr. Branstad that his Demo­cratic op­po­nent, Jack Hatch, shaved his off in his first ad of the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

“There is only one thing that Branstad and Jack Hatch have in common, and for Jack that is one thing too many,” the nar­ra­tor says in the ad be­fore the video pans to a clean-shaven Mr. Hatch.

Mr. Branstad, mean­while, has de­vel­oped a cult­like fol­low­ing. His sup­port­ers have been known to sport fake mus­taches and re­fer to his as the “Branstash.”

There is also a Twit­ter user who goes by the han­dle “Branstad’s mus­tache” and keeps fol­low­ers en­ter­tained with zany one-lin­ers like “Tom Sel­leck went as me for Hal­loween,” “about to go mus­tache-deep in a bowl­ful of stuff­ing” and, on July 4th, “Amer­i­can flag in one hand, hot dog in the other, sparkler in the mus­tache.”

Even Mr. Branstad’s ri­vals are hav­ing fun with the mus­tache.

“I think he would fit in in Brook­lyn,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Demo­cratic strate­gist. “He is the world’s old­est hip­ster.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Iowa’s Terry Branstad is one of two cur­rent gover­nors with a mus­tache.

John Kitzhaber

Wil­liam Howard Taft

Theodore Roo­sevelt

An­gus King

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