Kuster on Vaillancourt’s 'ugly' remarks: What’s really offensive is the Republican platform

Last modified: 10/16/2014 12:23:50 AM
It’s not enough for Republicans to decry and disown sexist remarks, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster said in an interview yesterday with the Monitor.

“I have thick skin,” she said in response to questions about a Republican state lawmaker’s blog saying that she’ll lose her race against state Rep. Marilinda Garcia if voters choose based on looks.

“Steve Vaillancourt can say whatever he’s going to say. . . . What it leads to is a much more important conversation to have, which is frankly, what’s offensive to the voters of New Hampshire is the Republican platform.”

Vaillancourt drew national attention to Kuster’s campaign against challenger Garcia earlier this week with a blog post, saying he heard attractive candidates have an advantage of as much as 10 percentage points, and “if looks matter,” Garcia has the edge over Kuster, whom he called “ugly as sin.”

Yesterday, Kuster redirected the questions into a broad attack on Garcia’s record on women’s issues, particularly her opposition to the Violence Against Women Act and the Equal Pay for Equal Work bill, which would mandate women are paid the same as men in comparable positions.

“I don’t know if it’s because she’s never worked. She’s 31 years old living at home, and maybe that’s it, she’s never been paid an unfair wage,” Kuster said.

Garcia and Republican party officials disowned Vaillancourt’s remarks when they were published Monday.

Garcia said his remarks “are sexist and have absolutely no place in political discourse. . . . I hope that as time moves forward and more female candidates run for political office around the country, people will focus on the content of our ideas rather than what we wear and how we look.”

On Facebook, New Hampshire Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Horn called the remarks “reprehensible. They undermine the healthy development of our daughters and in no way reflect our values as Granite Staters.

“Here in New Hampshire, we judge our politicians by their substance on the issues, by their willingness to engage in open and public conversation with their constituents, and by their independent representation of the people of New Hampshire. Rep. Kuster has failed on each of these measurements and that is why the voters will replace her on Nov. 4th.”

Vaillancourt anticipated backlash to his post, couching it in an introduction that warned “the subject matter, although very real, may prove uncomfortable for some of my more sensitive readers.”

“This is the kind of dirty little secret that most people usually don’t like to admit, (but) if we stop to admit it, looks matter in politics,” he wrote.

Do they?

“It’s not crazy to say it, but it’s not that simple,” Chappell Lawson, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.

Appearance can influence voters’ opinions of candidates. But there are several caveats, Lawson said.

Once voters know a candidate’s party affiliation, that tends to trump looks. And the more voters know about a candidate’s position on issues, the less they care about appearance, Lawson said.

“If you don’t know much about the candidates and don’t care much about the issues, and the race doesn’t seem important and the only cue you have is name and picture,” he said, “then you would expect a large effect from that picture.”

Ryan Enos, an assistant professor of government at Harvard who has also researched this issue, explained it with a thought experiment.

“Mitt Romney is among the most attractive politicians in the country, everyone seems to agree. But have you ever heard a Democrat who says they voted for Mitt Romney just because he was really, really good looking?” he said.

Even among true independents, a good looking candidate gets a boost of about 3 percentage points, Enos and his research team found.

They examined every U.S. Senate election over a 15-year period, and “we didn’t find a single election during that period where it looked like somebody’s attractiveness was enough to win.”

It’s because people have two basic decision-making paths in their brains: intuition and reason, Enos said.

“You might see someone who is attractive and intuitively think, ‘I like them.’ If you learn you disagree with them on issues, you might then change your mind,” he said. “System one does the job until system two comes along and overrides it.”

In fact, the only time appearance seems to influence voters, Lawson and Enos said, is when they have nothing else to inform their opinion.



(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)




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