Robin Beard (born August 21, 1939) is a former U.S. Congressman from Tennessee who served from 1973 to 1983.
Beard was a graduate of Nashville's prestigious Montgomery Bell Academy, Vanderbilt University and a former lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He later moved to Somerville, a suburb of Memphis. He was appointed Tennessee personnel commissioner in 1970, under Governor Winfield Dunn. In 1972, he announced that he was entering the Republican primary for the newly-reconfigured Sixth Congressional District. It was widely speculated that the district had been drawn in such a way as to put incumbent Democrat William Anderson of Waverly in a precarious position as punishment for his presumed liberalism and his musings about running for vice president in 1972. Also, many Democrats still remembered Anderson's 1962 gubernatorial bid as an independent against their nominee, Frank G. Clement. The Democrats in the state legislature shifted several Republican-trending portions near Memphis into the Sixth, while cutting out several solidly Democratic areas.
In November, Beard defeated Anderson by 12 percentage points. Tennessee Democrats had not anticipated the depth of the massive Republican landslide fueled largely by the Presidential candidacy of George McGovern, who carried only five of Tennessee's 95 counties; the Republicans were able to win a majority in the state's congressional delegation for the first time since Reconstruction. However, Beard's victory was not and never has been regarded as an upset, as most pundits believed the Sixth was the only district in Tennessee where a Republican had any chance of unseating a Democrat in a normal cycle. As an example, Richard Fulton of the Nashville-based 5th District trounced his Republican opponent even as Nixon easily carried the district.
Beard proved to be popular in much of his district, even though almost none of its residents had been represented by a Republican before. In part due to taking conservative positions on almost all issues, much to the liking of a majority of his constituents, and in part due to emphasis on constituent services, he won reelection to four subsequent terms, his first reelection coinciding with the 1974 nationwide Watergate debacle which ended the careers of many Republicans. Beard was frequently reelected by margins of over 30 points, rivaling the totals usually scored by Republicans in East Tennessee. His only serious threat probably came in 1976 when he was opposed for reelection by former Senator Ross Bass, who had represented the district from 1955 to 1964. However, Bass found himself running in a large amount of territory that he had never represented in Congress, and was defeated by over 34 points. Beard's blowout win over Bass was one of the few bright spots in a year in which Tennessee politics were largely otherwise dominated by Democrats, who regained more of the ground that they had lost four years earlier.
Beard did not run for a sixth term in 1982, opting instead to run for the Republican nomination to oppose freshman Democratic Senator Jim Sasser. This was hard for some observers to understand, and some thought he mistook his name recognition in Memphis for statewide recognition. Others thought he was simply tired of being in the House. Another possibility is that he wanted to ride in on the coattails of popular Republican governor Lamar Alexander, who was well on his way to a second term. Whatever the case, while Beard won the primary he was a heavy underdog against Sasser from the beginning (even though Ronald Reagan had carried Tennessee two years before), and his television ads didn't help the cause. In one Sasser was likened to a then-popular toy mouse which was wound up and started performing back flips, emphasizing Sasser's "flip flop" record according to Beard; in another, a fatigue-wearing Fidel Castro look-alike lit his cigar with what appeared to be American money, saying, "Gracias, Se├▒or Sasser!" Very few Tennesseans accepted the premise that Sasser was a Communist or Communist sympathizer. In the end, Beard lost in a massive 20-point landslide. This was a considerable embarrassment to the Tennessee GOP, especially considering that Alexander was handily reelected. The Republicans would not another statewide race until 1994, when they captured the governorship and both Senate seats.
Subsequent to his Senate defeat Beard was appointed as a NATO deputy secretary-general and spent several years (1984-1987) in Belgium, an experience that he enjoyed so much that he repeated it again later (1992-1995). He was subsequently quoted as saying that losing the Senate race was the best thing that had ever happened to him or his family, which he again found time for once removed from the constant travel and fundraising associated with service in Congress. He currently runs a Washington, D.C.-based import-export business and is a resident of Alexandria, Virginia.