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Democratic Faces That Could Launch Thousands of Votes

Indiana sheriff Brad Ellsworth, left, a Democratic challenger for Congress, is among the candidates whose looks are turning heads this election season.
Indiana sheriff Brad Ellsworth, left, a Democratic challenger for Congress, is among the candidates whose looks are turning heads this election season. (Ellsworthforcongress.com)

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By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 14, 2006

AUBURN, N.Y. -- Maybe Democratic candidate Michael Arcuri is running strong in this Republican House district because he pledges to expand health coverage, balance the budget and raise the minimum wage.

Or maybe it's his piercing Italian eyes and runner's physique.

"He is pretty good-looking," observed Paula Ferrin with admiration, as the 47-year-old district attorney worked the crowd at a local senior center.

"What we want is brains, honey," scolded her friend Rose Oliver.

"True," Ferrin answered, "but handsome doesn't hurt."

The research is unambiguous that Ferrin is right: Attractive politicians have an edge over not-so-attractive ones. The phenomenon is resonating especially this year. By a combination of luck and design, Democrats seem to be fielding an uncommonly high number of uncommonly good-looking candidates.

The beauty gap between the parties, some on Capitol Hill muse, could even be a factor in who controls Congress after Election Day.

Democratic operatives do not publicly say that they went out of their way this year to recruit candidates with a high hotness quotient. Privately, however, they acknowledge that, as they focused on finding the most dynamic politicians to challenge vulnerable Republicans, it did not escape their notice that some of the most attractive prospects were indeed often quite attractive.

There is a certain logic to the trend. Back in 1994, when Republicans seized power in Congress from Democrats, the GOP had a number of fresh-faced challengers who knocked off incumbents who had grown worse for wear after years of committee hearings and fundraising receptions.

This year, it is the Democrats who have several ripe opportunities to unseat Republicans, some of whom have grown gray and portly during their years in power.

To gain the 15 seats needed to recapture House control, the party is targeting about 40 GOP-leaning districts, including New York's 24th, where veteran Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R) is retiring and where Arcuri is campaigning.

In most of the races, the Democratic challengers look a lot like standard-issue politicians -- not likely to impress the judges at Atlantic City. But there are others who, while they might not have movie-star looks, are certainly well above the C-SPAN median.


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