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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow? To Shave or Not to Shave, That’s the Question

April 27, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ To shave, or not to shave? For bearded politicians facing an election fight, that’s the question.

Either way, they say, it’s risky business.

Conservative Rep. Robert K. Dornan, R-Calif., sprouted flaming red chin whiskers last year but shaved them off for the November election. He easily won a sixth House term.

But when liberal former Rep. Mike Lowry, D-Wash., shaved off his ″Yasser Arafat look-alike″ beard last fall in his bid for a Senate seat, he lost.

Another GOP conservative from California, freshman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, ignored his media experts’ advice and refused to shave his beard. The voters elected him anyway.

″I got letters, mostly from older people, saying, ’I like your ideas but you look like a tramp,‴ said Rohrabacher, who had written speeches for then- President Reagan. ″But I figure I gained much more support by keeping my beard. It helped me stand out from the eight other primary candidates, who all looked alike.″

Rohrabacher is one of only five remaining members of the House Beard Caucus, an informal group that convened one morning this week in the House barber shop to celebrate their hairy individualism.

The group’s sole purpose is ″to allow members to fraternize about the politics of having hair on your face,″ said Rep. David E. Bonior, D-Mich., the caucus chairman.

The other members are Reps. Mickey Leland, D-Texas; Ron Dellums, D-Calif., and Floyd Flake, D-N.Y. The numbers are shrinking, down from about a dozen last year. There are no beards in the Senate.

One of the caucus’ clean-shaven defectors, Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., is scornful of the ″wimps″ who shave before an election, or wait until they’ve won to grow a beard.

Ackerman got rid of his 17-year-old goatee only after the election, he says proudly.

″I just got tired of reading in the newspapers that I won by a whisker or had a close shave in the last election,″ he said.

Ackerman has no intention of growing a new beard - ″I feel almost like a virgin, as though I’ve captured my long-lost youth,″ he says - but smooth- chinned Rep. Dennis Eckart, D-Ohio, says he will grow another.

Shaving, says Eckart, ″is my way of splurging, my little way of rewarding myself after an election.″ Moreover, ″I’ve discovered that the humidity of Washington is the greatest inducement to shaving known to mankind,″ he said.

Eckart says shaving off a beard before an election campaign is hazardous.

″Many members now have to resort to an expensive media campaign that features them with one look,″ he said. ″As I discovered, when folks get used to seeing you one way, and then see you a few weeks later looking another way, it draws instant criticism.″

Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., now clean-shaven, says he grows a beard ″every time I take a couple of days off″ and always gets complaints from constituents.

″I’ve gotten more nasty mail over my beard than over any other issue since I’ve been in Congress,″ he says. Nonetheless, Gejdenson plans to grow his back.

Bonior, who is chief deputy whip for House Democrats, says he shaved his beard briefly last Christmas because his family hadn’t seen him for 10 years without one.

″They didn’t like what they saw, so I grew it back,″ he said.

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EDITOR’S NOTE - Robert M. Andrews is an Associated Press reporter in Washington who has sported a beard for the last 19 years.

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