Erika Harold, the former Miss America whose candidacy in the 13th Congressional District is now national news since a GOP county chairman compared her to a streetwalker, is not the first beauty queen to go into politics.
Bess Myerson, who became the first Jewish Miss America when she won the pageant in 1945, was a well-known political figure in her native New York. Myerson was in the cabinets of mayors John Lindsay and Ed Koch. As Koch’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Myerson also served as a beard for the bachelor mayor, accompanying him to public events. Her attempts at elective office were less successful. In 1980, Myerson ran for the U.S. Senate, losing the Democratic primary.
Then there was Anita Bryant, the Miss Oklahoma who was second runner-up at the 1959 pageant. Bryant became a middling pop star, with four Top 40 hits, and a spokeswoman for Florida orange juice. But she is far better remembered for her campaign against homosexuality. In 1977, Bryant led a successful ballot initiative to overturn an anti-discrimination ordinance in Dade County, Florida, where she then lived.
"If gays are granted rights,” Bryant said at the time, “next we'll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters."
Bryant followed that up with a nationwide campaign against homosexuality, which made her an early champion of the religious right, and one of the most controversial public figures of the late 1970s. However, her political activism overshadowed her singing career, and she lost singing gigs, as well as her orange juice endorsement.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Kentucky, Heather French Henry is debating a run for U.S. Senate. The Democrat and 2000 Miss America title holder is considering a challenge to the chamber’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.
The two women join a growing list of beauty queens who recently have thrown their tiaras into the political ring.
Shelli Yoder, who finished as second runner-up at the 1993 Miss America pageant, ran unsuccessfully last fall as a Democratic nominee for Congress from Indiana. Fellow Democrat Caroline Bright, Miss Vermont 2011, also lost her race for a spot in her state Senate.
But Lauren Cheape won her race for the Hawaii House of Representatives. Her victory last fall came just months after she jumped rope in the talent competition of the Miss America contest.
A beauty pageant is not the best preparation for a political career. Despite the notoriety she’s getting as a result of that ugly slur, Harold will have a tough time beating incumbent Rep. Rodney Davis in the primary.