DES MOINES, IA—In what political insiders are calling one of the weirdest campaign gaffes in history, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty shaved every single hair off his body this weekend while campaigning in Iowa.
The bizarre misstep by the former Minnesota governor, who is currently in the midst of a nine-city speaking tour across the crucial early-primary state, has left media pundits and political strategists baffled, with all of them agreeing that shearing the hair from his head, face, arms, legs, and torso has jeopardized Pawlenty's bid for the presidency.
"This was a massive and, frankly, confusing miscalculation by Gov. Pawlenty," Republican campaign strategist Matthew Dowd said. "Every candidate attempts to distinguish himself from the field and gain an edge with voters, and unfortunately for the governor, he seems to have come to the conclusion that shaving every inch of himself clean and leaving his body bald and smooth all over would help him better connect with Americans. I just really don't think he thought this one through."
"To be honest, I'm sort of at a loss here," Dowd added. "But this will certainly cost him with undecided voters, that's for sure."
Public reaction to Pawlenty's slip-up has thus far been overwhelmingly negative. A Rasmussen poll conducted Sunday found that 89 percent of Americans wanted to know why Tim Pawlenty had shaved the hair off every part of his body, one-third of likely voters had no idea why a person would do that, and 9 in 10 citizens said they had absolutely no interest in seeing a man with no body hair in the White House.
In addition, countless citizens have argued that Pawlenty's shaved body has distracted the nation from discussing the real issues facing Americans.
"When I saw Mr. Pawlenty last week, I think he talked for a long time about family values and maybe balancing the budget, but all I could focus on was how freaky and kind of gross he looked," said 44-year-old Kevin Rios, who attended Friday's town-hall-style meeting with Pawlenty in Denison, IA. "Have you ever been stared at by a guy with no eyelashes? It's the creepiest thing."
While the exact rationale behind Pawlenty's full-body hair removal remains unknown, the two-term governor has made his newly shorn look a focal feature of his campaign, having appeared at a series of voter meet-and-greets over the weekend wearing short-sleeve shirts and shorts that prominently displayed his soft, fleshy, and completely hairless limbs.
"We believe he's trying to send some sort of message to the electorate, but honestly we have no idea what that message is," said veteran political analyst Kevin Phillips, who stated that it was "hard to imagine" how a candidate could make such a large and admittedly strange blunder in today's era of tightly run campaign machines and focus groups. "Maybe it's something about the importance of cleanliness or nutrition, or—I have no clue."
In the wake of widespread criticism and general puzzlement from voters, Pawlenty has seemingly attempted to compensate by making a number of other image shifts that have only served to make him appear odder, including wearing a full-length beaver pelt jacket to a rally in Cedar Rapids, and plugging his hollowed-out earlobes with four-inch stainless-steel ear gauges.
Sources have also confirmed that Pawlenty paused in the middle of several recent policy speeches to apply lotion liberally to his bald forearms, calves, and head.
When contacted for comment, Pawlenty staffers attempted to downplay critics' assertions that the governor had effectively torpedoed his campaign, arguing that he was still a viable candidate committed to serving the American people.
"This campaign is not about who has hair on their body and who hasn't—it's about real issues affecting the American people," campaign manager Nick Ayers said. "Gov. Pawlenty is a bold and decisive conservative leader, and we're confident voters will be able to look past any recent superficial changes in his appearance and recognize that."
Despite the largely negative reaction to his recent behavior, a completely hairless Pawlenty continued to outpoll fellow Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich by a four-to-one margin.