- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

Little things mean a lot in a close presidential race, at least according to eager image advisers who have much to share with President Bush and Sen. John Kerry as they prepare for their nationally televised debate on Thursday.

Never, ever sweat, note members of the pants world.

“If a candidate doesn’t look cool, calm and polished on television, his public perception may get bruised,” said Lynn Downey, historian for Levi Strauss, the blue-jeans maker.

The company recently surveyed 1,029 adults to find that 60 percent of them equated sweat with stress and 42 percent were repulsed by sweat marks. Respondents proclaimed stockbrokers — followed by politicians and reporters — to be the sweatiest people in the world.

“It’s remarkable how much footage we’ve seen of Bush and Kerry with sweat stains while on the campaign trail — and more than just under the arms. We’ve caught sweat on their backs and around their collars as well,” noted Bill Stuart of Dockers, the khaki pants maker.

Forget sartorial influences, though. True power rests in the part of one’s hair, said John Walter, a Brooklyn-based mirror manufacturer. According to his five-year study of famous hairdos, most politicians part their hair in a subconscious effort to draw people’s attention to their respective left- or right-brained thinking.

He advises politicians to part their hair on the left to reflect logical reason rather than the arty emotionalism of right-brain thinkers. Al Gore, in fact, lost the 2000 election because of his right-sided hair part, which “did not convey a sense of power,” Mr. Walker reasoned.

Meanwhile, John Kerry’s “New England culture may not play in Peoria,” said Richard Katula, a political-speech expert with Northeastern University.

He advises Mr. Kerry to forgo being “aloof or arrogant” and maybe whoop it up a little on the podium.

“Kerry tends to be more cerebral. He believes, like many New Englanders, that the road to truth is paved with questions, not answers — a strategy that will not work nationally,” Mr. Katula said, adding, “Voters like to see candidates duke it out.”

He advised the senator from Massachusetts “to attack viciously.”

But voters can be swayed by unkempt eyebrows, weird necktie patterns, facial flaws, squeaky voices, a lousy shave, quirky gestures, foolish sighs, trite comments and other faux pas, said Norman Wein, a communications professor at Case Western Reserve University.

Television, he said, magnifies everything for better or worse.

“Viewers are naturally drawn to and formulate opinions based on those details,” said Mr. Wain, advising debate watchers to cut the candidates a little slack.

“Don’t judge them too harshly based on these factors,” Mr. Wain said. “Base a voting decision on the whole package, including the issues, versus just the way the candidate looks or speaks.”

But the hopefuls — particularly Mr. Kerry — must watch that speaking.

“Top political buzzwords are creating an inhospitable climate, in many cases overshadowing the key messages of the Democratic nominee,” said Paul J. Payack of the Global Language, a California-based linguist group that monitors word usage in media.

Talk of “swift boats” is “getting more media citations than all other key Kerry messages combined,” said Mr. Payack, but warns that a blunder by either candidate during the debates “could certainly change the existing chemistry of the campaign.”

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