ST. PAUL -- As the four candidates for governor head this week into a series of debates and forums, they may be saying as much with their garb as with their gab.
Look for Green Party candidate Ken Pentel to wear suits, for example -- a signal that he's no wild-eyed extremist.
Look for Republican Tim Pawlenty to wear a blue shirt with an open neck, a look that's part Silicon Valley -- he works for an Internet consulting business -- and part a nod to his blue-collar roots.
This week's gubernatorial debates and forums:
--Wednesday: The four major-party candidates debate on Twin Cities Public Television's Almanac program Wednesday at 7 p.m.
--Thursday: The men will take questions and speak at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities' summer conference in Worthington from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
--Saturday: The candidates meet for a debate sponsored by the Independent Community Bankers of Minnesota at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria at 11:30 a.m.
Look for Democrat Roger Moe to be crisply dressed in Ralph Lauren, but not in the stuffy white dress shirts that were his trademark as leader of the Senate.
And look for the Independence Party's Tim Penny to have his sleeves rolled up and his tie -- if he wears one -- loosened.
Those, at least, are the areas of the closets each of the men have been drawing from so far in their campaigns.
"If a politician wants to win, they really need to pay attention to their clothing, their demeanor and posture," says Sherry Maysonave, a communication image consultant and author based in Texas.
The most common mistake, she says, is when candidates dress overly casual in an attempt to mimic their audience. "Actually, they need to be a step up from their audience. People have expectations of their leaders," she says.
But even a suit can have pitfalls. It's important not to risk ridicule by wearing one while touring a farm, for example, and color is especially important.
"Brown suits inspire distrust," she says. She recommends sticking with dark blue or black.
Image consultants are standard fare in national campaigns. Al Gore took some guff when it was reported that he'd hired feminist Naomi Wolf, who told him to wear earth tones to appeal to women voters.
In state campaigns, the process of shaping images is less formal.
"People do have opinions and it gets talked about, especially when you go on TV," says Bill Walsh of the Minnesota Republican Party. He says things rarely rise to the level of candidates hiring special consultants, noting that candidates' spouses probably have more influence than any campaign staffer.
Teresa McFarland, a public relations consultant and former aide to Penny, says Penny doesn't go in much for image sculpting. She describes him as the kind of guy who used to have to borrow a sportscoat from an aide so he could enter the House chamber to vote.
But he's made his own concessions to the campaign: he bought new glasses outfitted with anti-glare coating that are friendlier to television cameras.
Minnesota's politicians have long sought to create their own brands. Arne Carlson wore his gold and maroon University of Minnesota sweater frequently and had his official portrait painted with him in a letter jacket. Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer wears red at most public events.
Still, the question needs to be asked whether any of this matters in a post-Jesse Ventura era.
Ventura dressed casually for debates, and after he was elected boasted that he had to go out to buy suits for the job.
"With Jesse Ventura, it didn't matter," says Bill Hillsman, the Minneapolis adman who did commercials for Ventura. For these candidates, he says, it will.
"The general thinking on this race is it's so close, anything is going to make a difference," Hillsman said. But he warns, if candidates try too hard, they can wind up looking ridiculous: "I think there's more points to be lost than to be gained."
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