Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Hairstylist Grooms Hopefuls, With a Trim

Eric Thayer for The New York Times
Cathy Jorgensen, who has aided many ailing political hairdos, at her salon in the Marriot Des Moines Downtown.

IT was just moments before Mitt Romney had to be camera-ready, rushing from the Marriott Hotel here to one of the first nationally televised Republican presidential debates of the political season. And this is precisely when his hair decided not to behave.

Mr. Romney, ever well coiffed, had an unusually stubborn cowlick that had refused to lay flat despite serious coaxing over more than a few minutes in his room. Rushing through the lobby, he sought emergency help from an expert who’s probably done as much as any political consultant to help candidates and their families look good over the years: Cathy Jorgensen, the hotel hairstylist.

When Mr. Romney asked if she could fix his wayward strands, the answer, of course, was yes. With a quick snip and some gel, he was all good again. “Took care of that!” said Ms. Jorgensen, an Iowa native whose unpretentious 25-year-old salon in the hotel is, at least every four years, at the center of the political universe.

As a result, Ms. Jorgensen, a chipper 61-year-old grandmother, has become something of a political operative herself. She’s a local cosmetology school graduate who has been vetted by the Secret Service and had her fingers in some of the most iconic hairdos in presidential history. Recall Barbara Bush’s snow-white halo? Ms. Jorgensen hit it with a curling iron back in the 1980s.

Last week, in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the small beauty shop (it only has two shampoo bowls) was abuzz. There was to be a debate Saturday night at Drake University, and the hotel was booked with campaign staff members and reporters, many of whom turned to Ms. Jorgensen for something at the last minute: hairpins, conditioner, makeup, a trim and highlights among them.

Vincent Roppatte, a noted stylist who is usually tending to well-known clients at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, was in town with Diane Sawyer, the anchor of ABC’s “World News” and a moderator of the Drake debate. Mr. Roppatte is part of Ms. Sawyer’s hair and makeup team, but he ended up in Ms. Jorgensen’s chair Saturday afternoon.

“At my salon, who has time to do anything?” he said as Ms. Jorgensen created blond highlights. “Between being up early to tend to my salon and to tend to Diane, I don’t have time to do this at home.”

Meanwhile, Ron Kaufman, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney, was waiting for a haircut. He, too, had been pressed for time before leaving his home in Boston, and found it more convenient to have his hair cut during downtime before the debate.

There’s one other thing, though, that Mr. Roppatte was in the salon for: “the story,” he said. Being in the beauty business himself, he knows how clients tend to open up in the comfort of a relaxing salon. What better place to get some gossip? Or to find out which campaign is the vainest of them all?

Ms. Jorgensen, who rents her space from the Marriott Des Moines Downtown and operates her business, the Cutting Company, independently, makes it abundantly clear, however, that she is not the kind of stylist who will cut and tell. She would not say, for example, which politician asked her to open the salon in the middle of the night, for the sake of his privacy, during the primary season in 2008. Or which political wives she has had to schedule far apart so that they wouldn’t bump into each other.

“I have a friend who works at The Des Moines Register who might talk about the news if we’re out at a party, and I’ll say, ‘Oh, I heard that at the salon a few days ago,’ ” she said. “My friend jokes that I should be on staff, but I say, no way. I’d be out of business if I was breaking the news.”

While she hesitates to talk about them, very often, she said, politicians reach out to her for an opinion. “I’m always flattered,” she said.

Bob Dole, the former senator from Kansas, stands out in her mind as a candidate who was especially nice to her when he was running for president in 1996. Ms. Jorgensen has styled the hair of Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth Dole, the former senator of North Carolina, on a few occasions.

“Very personable couple,” Ms. Jorgensen said. “And Elizabeth Dole is very easy to blow-dry.”
About Mr. Romney’s quick fix, she said, “He was nice, he was very kind.”

Ms. Jorgensen, a Democrat, still exchanges Christmas cards with Patrick J. Buchanan, who was a Republican presidential candidate in the 1990s, and his wife, Shelley Buchanan, whose hair she had styled for several campaign events.

Political affiliations do not matter, although it does seem that Ms. Jorgensen’s clientele tends to lean Republican. “I love to follow politics and keep track of what’s going on, so I really enjoy having the opportunities that come my way,” she said. “That’s one of the things about living in Iowa: with very little effort, you can meet all of the politicians. I mean, everyone who’s running, you can meet them and talk to them.”

“Most people probably wouldn’t be having their hands in their hair,” she said, “but I do.”

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