I was confused for a while.

Why did Maine voters give overwhelming approval to a tax-repeal referendum on Nov. 4, while simultaneously returning to office even more of the Democratic legislators who passed the unpopular tax in the first place?

Why did the state’s electorate cry out for change, but, by wide margins, return to Congress incumbents Susan Collins and Mike Michaud – as well as Chellie Pingree, a person who supports the same policies as the incumbent?

Why – with everyone whining about the economy, economic development and unemployment – did this election result in the rejection of a casino project whose proponents promised jobs, additional state revenue and diversion from recessionary reality?

I searched in vain for signs of consistency in the returns. I wanted some assurance the state’s citizens hadn’t just trudged to the polls to make a bunch of random marks on their ballots. I wanted an indication they weren’t choosing their elected leaders the way novices pick race horses. (“I’m voting for the candidate with the funniest nickname.” “I’m voting for the referendum campaign with the cutest colors on its lawn signs.”)

I watched on TV as the winners declared victory and the losers made noises like they hoped they could get back their old jobs at the car wash, and I suddenly saw the pattern.

These campaigns weren’t about issues.

People hadn’t made decisions based on platforms or platitudes.

They didn’t care who had the sharpest arguments in debates or the most innovative ideas in their frontal lobes.

This whole mess came down to physical appearance. But not the way you think.

Welcome to the year of voting ugly.

On election night, almost all the defeated politicos looked sharp. Meanwhile, most of the winners could have been mistaken for the “before” picture in a Botox commercial.

Take the casino. The front person for the Oxford County gambling emporium was Pat LaMarche. OK, she’s no candidate for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, but, if you ignore her personality, LaMarche is poised, well-groomed and reasonably attractive.

In 2008, that’s called the loser look.

The anti-gambling side was represented by Dennis Bailey. His clothes could have been dropped off by a refugee-relief agency. His hair appeared to be staging a coup d’etat against his scalp. His face indicated he’s expecting a hard winter, so he’s storing walnuts in his jowls.

What a stud.

Did you see the TV ad Republican 1st District candidate Charlie Summers ran attacking his Democratic opponent for supporting tax increases? It featured a picture of Chellie Pingree that appeared to have been taken right after she soaked her head in an acid bath. Made you feel sorry for her boyfriend, millionaire hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman. Unless you’ve seen S. Donald Sussman.

On the other hand, Summers always looks like he just stepped out of the pages of GQ. It’s going to be tough keeping those creases sharp while he’s soaping up cars.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tom Allen has perfect hair, a chiseled visage and an adorable gap in his teeth. But he was never able to shake his image as a big-city, policy-wonk lawyer.

The truth is clingy like that.

GOP incumbent Susan Collins has a voice like a smoke alarm, a hairdo created by anarchists and a wardrobe that could have been designed to enrage bulls. The overall effect screams something.

Bipartisan? Warning: natural disaster?

Collins looks like a landslide. She also wins like one. She beat Allen by a greater percentage of the vote than her victory margin over Pingree six years ago.

But remember, Pingree was better looking back then.

I’ve heard people claim that Democratic 2nd District Congressman Mike Michaud is a more physically appealing specimen than his vanquished GOP opponent, John Frary.

I really don’t want to think about that.

But it’s true that age has not been kind to Frary. Of course, we know from old photos he ran in his campaign ads that youth wasn’t exactly his pal, either. Still, if one were to add 20 years and a couple of cases of Scotch to Michaud’s prematurely sagging features, he’d out-ugly Frary by more than the two-to-one margin he beat him by at the polls.

In the Legislature, I concede that soon-to-be Speaker of House Hannah Pingree holds an attractiveness edge over soon-to-be-forgotten House Minority Leader Josh Tardy. But Pingree is the daughter of the aforementioned congresswoman-elect. Eventually, genetics will catch up with her, giving her a wrinkle for every seat the Democrats won this year. Tardy, however, will continue to look forgettable.

Now that I’ve revealed the voters’ preference for the ill-favored, unattractive and misshapen, I expect it will change the future approach of many campaigns. Already I’ve heard of some candidates for governor in 2010 who are canceling plans to employ pollsters, consultants and dirty-tricksters.

They’re hiring plastic surgeons – the kind who can give them that John Baldacci look.

Send the ugly truth to [email protected]


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