Sunday, October 23, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Alaska Democratic Candidate Has Been Having Bad Hair Days


ANCHORAGE - Republican candidates around the country have eagerly sought to link their Democratic opponents to President Clinton's policies, but only in Alaska has a candidate been attacked for having Clintonesque hair.

Democrat Tony Knowles, making his second bid for governor, learned to deflect potshots that he's a tax-and-spend liberal during his two terms as Anchorage mayor. But the latest jab is more personal.

"I was watching the news last night, and I noticed something," begins a radio advertisement for Republican Jim Campbell, a retired Anchorage businessman who, at 62, is partly bald.

"President Bill Clinton is tall, has a shy smile, good hair," a male announcer says. "Some women tell me he's really good-looking. And then I noticed Tony Knowles - tall, shy smile, good hair - same thing with the women."

The ad, which ran briefly this month, caused a spurt of worry for Knowles supporters, who say it obliquely - and wrongly - accuses the candidate of womanizing.

"I think they're trying to ring that bell," said Knowles aide Bob King.

A Vietnam veteran with an economics degree from Yale, Knowles, 50, has been married 26 years and has three children. In nearly 20 years of politics he's never had to fend off public accusations of womanizing.

Both Campbell and Knowles are regarded as moderates who favor state budget cuts and oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off Alaska's north coast.

Hair aside, what really upset the Democrats was the ad's attempt to link Knowles with White House environmental policy deemed poisonous in Alaska, a development-hungry state facing the double threat of low oil prices and declining oil production.

Under Knowles and Clinton, taxes have skyrocketed, the ad says. "Coincidence?" the announcer asks. "Or is this always the way it is when a guy's handsome and has good hair?"

The ad puzzled political observers who acknowledge there's a wealth of anti-Clinton sentiment to mine. But toxic tactics are only effective, one expert says, when they manage to capitalize on the conventional wisdom about a candidate.

That can be harder to pull off in Alaska, where half the population lives in Anchorage, and voters think they know their politicians.

"If the attack belies what people know, if people have independent information, then they make their own judgment," notes Henry Kenski, author of a textbook analyzing negative campaigns.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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