BELMONT, Mass. — Voters routinely ask about it on the campaign trail. Pundits chronicle the slightest changes in its presentation. There is a Facebook page devoted it — not to mention an entire blog. "Has it always been this good?" read a recent online entry.
The subject of the unusually intense political speculation and debate?
Mitt Romney's hair.
By far his most distinctive physical feature, Romney's head of impeccably coiffed black hair has become something of a cosmetological Rorschach test on the campaign trail, with many seeing in his thick locks everything they love and loathe about the Republican candidate for the White House. (Commanding, reassuring, presidential, crow fans; too stiff, too slick, too perfect, complain critics.)
Romney's advisers have been known to fret about the shiny strands, and his rivals have sought to turn them against him. Asked by the late-night host Jimmy Fallon on Monday what word she associated with Romney, a businessman, Olympics executive and governor, Rep. Michele Bachmann replied, "Hair."
Nobody has a more complicated and intimate relationship with Romney's hair than the man who has styled it for more than two decades, a barrel-chested, bald Italian immigrant named Leon de Magistris.
For years, de Magistris said in an interview, he has tried to persuade Romney, 64, to loosen up his look by tousling his meticulous mane.
"I will tell him to mess it up a little bit," said de Magistris, 69. "I said to him, 'Let it be more natural.'"
The suggestion has not gone over well.
"He wants a look that is very controlled," de Magistris said. "He is a very controlled man. The hair goes with the man."
Romney's is a restrained, classic look: short at the neck, neat on the sides and swept back off the forehead. "It is not something stylish," de Magistris noted. "It is clean and conservative."
As Romney took the microphone at a campaign stop in Nashua, N.H., a few days ago, Caroline Cagan acknowledged a weakness for his lush locks.
"A lot of people would pay a lot of money to have hair like that," said Cagan, a local Chamber of Commerce member. "It projects youth. And, honestly, you can't help but think that people with good hair are in good health."
Diane Godbout, a retiree who attended the same event, put it in simpler terms: "It's very presidential."
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