THE VERY MOMENT that Sen. Bob Kerrey declared his candidacy, he became the favorite among Democrats to win the nomination. That's because he has the poofiest hair.
Most political pundits ignore the Poofy Hair Factor, or don't understand it, although it's simple enough. Liberal Democrats prefer poofy hair.
And because the more liberal Democrats dominate their party's selection process, the candidate with the poofiest hair usually gets the nomination.
This poofy hair tradition goes back to 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected and brought the illusion of --ing, youthful style to the White House. Like all Kennedy males, his thick hair swooped and swirled and poofed.
Until Kennedy, presidents of both parties favored the fatherly wet look. Or, as with Ike, the grandfatherly bald look.
Hoping to cash in on the Kennedy popularity, Democrats at all levels ran out and bought blow dryers and began going to hair stylists named Angelo instead of barbers named Fred. Even some Chicago politicians looked like pot-bellied Beatles.
Someone should have pointed out this trend to Lyndon B. Johnson. Although he created a wallet-busting number of social programs, liberals never really liked him. They say that it was because he expanded the Vietnam War, but I suspect that part of their dislike stemmed from his slicked-back 1950s haircut.
They also were spiteful to Hubert Humphrey, despite his being a devout liberal. No doubt it was because he looked like he got his hair cut at a Minnesota barber college.
But in 1972, they flocked to George McGovern, who made a valiant effort to achieve a Kennedyesque poofy look. Although balding, McGovern used the old trick of parting his hair near his ear and draping the strands across the top of his head. He combined this with letting his sideburns become as lush as he could without impairing his hearing.
Then in 1976, an unknown peanut farmer named Jimmy Carter was nominated and elected. Why? Because he had a hairdo that outpoofed his Democratic rivals and his Republican opponent, Gerald Ford, who had a head like .45 caliber slug.
Carter was from Plains, Ga., a rustic community where anything with a thatch of hair like his would normally have been shot, skinned and served for dinner.
The most recent Democratic poof-job belonged to Michael Dukakis, whose stylist must have pored over a Kennedy family album for every swoop and swirl. The problem was that a blow dryer can do only so much. When Dukakis opened his mouth, he still sounded like an office-furniture salesman.
Now we have the current field of Democrats. As I said, Kerrey has by far the poofiest hair, with about a 33 percent forehead swirl and maybe 15 percent ear coverage.
He's followed by Douglas Wilder, the Virginia governor. No question, Wilder has impressive poof. The trouble is, Wilder's hair is so white that he comes across as a swarthy dandelion, or a guy with a gull nesting on his head.
Then there is Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas. If you have been in Arkansas, you know that the most fashionable hairstyle there is still the shave-neck, boot-camp crew cut. (I'm talking about Arkansas men; crew cuts are worn by only a small percentage of the women.)
Despite this cultural tradition, Arkansas' Clinton is clearly trying to achieve the Kennedy-Carter-Dukakis poof-style. But it doesn't seem to work. Instead, he has sort of a frightened porcupine look, as if he stuck his finger in an electrical outlet. That might appeal to Marx Brothers fans, but I'm not sure who else.
So at this point, Kerrey has the clear edge, and the polls will surely show it. Unless the Democrats wise up.
Apparently they haven't realized that the poof-head look, while appealing to the hysterics who run their party, doesn't go over with the majority of voters.
If it did, the voters wouldn't have elected Richard Nixon, with his sly little waves. Or Ronald Reagan, whose head was much poofier inside than out. Or George Bush, who still has his old Yale yearbook look.
The voters have shown that they prefer someone who looks like he gets up in the morning, makes a part in his hair, flips some of it east and the rest of it west. In other words, a no-nonsense noggin.
Although my sympathies tend to be with Democrats, except when they lust for taxes, I admit to being suspicious when I see a poof-head presidential candidate. I ask myself: "He will have the most demanding job in the world, so how can he spare 15 minutes every morning blowing hot air at his head?"
That's almost two hours a week. More than 100 hours a year. Or 400-plus hours during one term of office. Just doing his hair. I'm sure it didn't take George Washington even half that time to put on his goofy wig, and he didn't have to deal with Israel and the Arabs.
So I have some advice for the Democrats. When the candidates have their primary debates, the moderator should wet down their heads, count to three and say: "Go."
First one to put down the comb gets my vote.