WASHINGTON - Ah, the corn dog.
The corn meal-coated hot dog on a stick is the quintessential Midwest fair food, and it seems American politicians can't truly be taken seriously in the key primary state of Iowa unless they indulge.
Just one problem — no one looks good chowing down on a corn dog, as several recently snapped far-from-flattering photographs of politicians mid-dog can attest.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was snapped in Iowa this week licking mustard from the tip of his dog and, in a separate shot, appeared to be in the process of inhaling one whole.
An unfortunate photograph of a slack-jawed Michele Bachmann — her eyes half-shut as she went to work on her foot-long corn dog — has gone viral, perhaps for obvious reasons. The Minnesota congresswoman was also snapped attempting to convince her husband, Marcus, to have a bite of her dog as he grimaced with apparent distaste.
But it's the heavy-lidded solo shot, taken by a Daily Telegraph reporter, that's caused an uproar.
"Would the Telegraph have run a similar photo of a presidential candidate consuming an obvious phallic symbol if said candidate were male?" Frances Martel at Mediaite.com asked.
"The image sends a clear message to any woman thinking about pursuing such high public office: we at the Telegraph are unable to look at you as anything but a sex object, no matter what your qualifications for office."
It's an argument that's been somewhat muted by the fact that Perry's corn dog shots have also lit the Internet on fire.
And Republicans aren't the only politicians to dutifully partake in an apparent corn dog tradition.
Hillary and Bill Clinton have eaten them several times during the course of their political careers. Obama ate one on the campaign trail in 2007, but managed to be photographed only holding onto his dog while sipping on a soda.
Others have adopted a similar strategy. Mitt Romney, who has been snapped partaking in a pork chop on a stick, was recently photographed carrying a corn dog with a bite out of it, but not actually eating the thing.
The patrician John Kerry was snapped looking vaguely pained as he clutched his corn dog while on the campaign trail seven years ago, but again, failed to publicly ingest it.
"The corn dog thing cracks me up," says Tanya Harvey, 32, an IT consultant based in Nevada.
"Why not corn on the cob? Not quite phallic enough for America? I'd love for a candidate to say: 'Yeah, no thanks. I don't really like 'em.' I would vote for the anti-corn dog candidate."
And yet there's no question corn dogs — better known in Canada as Pogos, the brand they're marketed under — are wildly popular in the United States, particularly in the Midwest, where they're a staple at country fairs.
There's even a National Corndog Day, celebrating the corn dog, tater tots and American beer. It's held on the first Saturday of March every year.
Brad Clemons, a columnist at the Missourian, recently shed some personal light about the American love affair for the corn dog, recalling how he met his wife at the Missouri state fair and enjoyed a particularly tasty corn dog that same day.
"Not that the euphoria created by a corn dog trumps the joy of meeting my wife," he wrote in a piece called "Is Heaven A State Fair Corn Dog?"
But he added that he was seriously jonesing for a corn dog that fateful day, and was sweetly rewarded.
"When I finally did reach a corn dog stand and obtained my little, wonderful, prized, cholesterol carrot, I was relieved," Clemons wrote.