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White vs. Perry: a view through the looker glass

What we have here, from a strictly visual standpoint, is a case of the farmer from American Gothic versus the Marlboro Man.

Or to put it another way, can a bald, decidedly plain-faced mayor from Houston confound the looks-are-everything television age and dethrone an almost criminally handsome incumbent topped with hair thicker than lasagna noodles?

The race for Texas governor, now settling in between Democrat Bill White and Republican Rick Perry, also will be a battle of have- and have-nots in the tele-genetic scheme of things.

On the surface it's a big edge for Perry, who certainly looks the part of the state's leading man. White simply wasn't blessed with such attributes. It's not his fault, but it may be ours for repeatedly electing people who "look" gubernatorial -- or presidential.

Television has been a national and local player for roughly 60 years now. In that time only one baldy has been elected president. But Dwight D. Eisenhower was a fabled war hero when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1952. And his opponent, in both that year and 1956, was fellow chrome domer Adlai Stevenson, widely caricatured as an "egghead."

In the years since we've had one hair-challenged president, Gerald R. Ford. But he was never elected. Ford, who stepped in for Richard Nixon in 1974, lost to the abundantly coiffed Jimmy Carter in 1976. Carter then was beaten by one of the most abundantly haired presidents of all time, Ronald Reagan. And so on.

Bald, homely Texas senator Phil Gramm once upon a time thought he could be president. But five days before he even announced his candidacy in February 1995, Gramm sat down with Mike Wallace for a 60 Minutes piece that focused on his lack of good looks. Even Gramm termed himself "ugly" while the much older Wallace flaunted his comparative good looks and fetching full head of hair. Gramm's campaign was soon shoveling dirt on itself.

Texas governors mostly have been blessed with full plate pates -- at least in the television age. There's one notable exception, though. Democrat Preston Smith, who was pretty thin on top, served from 1969 to 1973 before the comparatively heavy-haired Dolph Briscoe succeeded him. It's been an unbroken string since then, with the late Ann Richards sporting the highest hair of all during her 1991-'95 tour of duty.

In the looks and hair department, Perry is the latter day equivalent of Texas governor John Connally (1963-'69), who rivaled even John F. Kennedy in those key areas. White seems to have the Paul Giamatti gene, which is good for playing mostly second bananas, albeit in some quality movies.

Down the homestretch of his demolishment of Kay Bailey Hutchison, Perry looked sturdier and studlier than than ever in an ad where strapped on his rust-colored Texas Rangers coat and preached Texas values before a Texas flag.

White lately has an ad in which he stands in light purple shirtsleeves before a mostly blank backdrop and pledges to give voters their "money's worth" if elected.

The challenger faces an uphill climb at best in his fight to unseat Perry. It'd probably help if he looked a lot more like a vintage James Garner than The Love Boat's Gavin MacLeod.

You never know, though. Maybe voters can find a way to disregard looks entirely and elect a man who otherwise might be mistaken as a botanist. For now, though, Perry is a veritable Yellow Rose of Texas while White more closely resembles a dandelion. May the best man win.

Here are those two aforementioned campaign ads: