The race for the Republican presidential nomination turned nasty this week, as Mitt Romney's former hairstylist, Francois Lockes, accused the GOP front-runner of using hair color to grey his temples. "Monsieur Romney est inauthentique," Mr. Lockes, a French citizen, told reporters. "Le candidat would shave his head pour un vote!"
The Romney campaign denied the accusation. "Frank the barber is a disgruntled former employee who was fired for trying to spike Mitt's chamomile tea with caffeine," said a Romney spokesperson.
Despite the denial, Herman Cain, who is leading Mr. Romney in some polls, used the controversy to contrast himself with the former governor.
"There is nothing phony about my follicles," Mr. Cain said, during a book signing in Philadelphia. "My peach fuzz is 99.9 percent pure. It is actually 100 percent real, but I like saying 99.9."
Pastor Robert Jeffers, who has endorsed Gov. Rick Perry, referenced the issue at a convention of abstinence-only education advocates in Las Vegas. "Mitt Romney's hair is as fake as his religion," the pastor said, while speaking to a group of sex-addicted teenage boys.
Governor Perry addressed the controversy while campaigning in South Carolina. "With so many Americans out of work, I find it very disturbing that Mitt would hire a Frenchy to coif his hair," Mr. Perry told supporters.
When asked by a reporter about Pastor Jeffers' comments, the Texas governor seemed reluctant to criticize the religious leader, saying only: "I disagree with Pastor Jeffers saying that Mitt's hair is fake."
The Romney campaign hoped that the story would die down, but it got new wind when the Drudge Report released documents showing that Mr. Lockes is in the United States illegally.
Speaking to reporters while getting a trim at a barber shop in New Hampshire, Mr. Romney tried to turn the report against one of his opponents. "I assumed that Frank the barber was here legally, because he showed me his license from a barber school in Texas, which paid his tuition," the candidate said. "When I was governor we didn't pay for illegals to get advanced degrees."
Mr. Romney's problems were the subject of a New York Times/Wall Street Journal poll. According to the survey, 87 percent of Americans say that Mr. Romney's hair color would have little or no impact on their vote, but 73 percent of likely Republican voters told pollsters that hair was the second most important issue for them, right behind how many wives a candidate has.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann picked up on the poll results to try to re-energize her campaign. "I think it is important to remember that Jesus had long hair," the lawmaker told voters at an Iowa town hall meeting. "I am the only candidate who can tie their hair in a ponytail."
Former Senator Rick Santorum drew on a Washington Post investigation showing that the Massachusetts health care legislation, signed by Mr. Romney, covers hair-coloring products as medication. "Mitt has lost all credibility on health care," Mr. Santorum said, while speaking to a crowd of two reporters at an Iowa campaign rally. "How can he justify paying for hair color when millions of bald Americans can't pay for hair transplants?"
The Romney scandal came up at yesterday's White House press briefing. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney had no comment on the revelations but said that President Barack Obama believes it is the civic duty of every American to closely follow the Republican campaign.
Ben Krull is a writer in New York City. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.