John F. Kennedy was a striking man — by most accounts, the best-looking person ever to occupy the White House — but he lived in an age before Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, chat groups and discussion threads made that a subject to debate with as much fervor as health care reform and offshore tax havens. Not so this year's presidential candidates.
Thus, if you typed "Is Barack Obama hot?" into Google last month, among the 10,500 results would be a link to a Facebook page "How hot is Barack Obama?," with instructions to "'like' this if you think Barack Obama is the hottest U.S. president ever!!!" Results: 1,238 likes as of last week, and comments like one from an admirer identified as Juanita Mitchell Dillion: "Fine, Fine, Fine."
Meanwhile, a "Barack Obama shirtless" search got 68,400 hits, most with links to pictures of the president on vacation in Hawaii.
A similar search turned up 5,910 results on Google to the question "Is Mitt Romney hot?," most of them references to this story when it was published on Nytimes.com. But there was also a "Mitt Romney is Hot like a Muffin in the Sack" Facebook page with 23 likes, as well as 5,400 Google hits for a "Mitt Romney shirtless" query. But most of those seemed to be of links to blog posts and pictures about his running mate, the famously fitness-obsessed Rep. Paul D. Ryan.
Googling "Is Paul Ryan hot?" yielded 1,000 results, but "Paul Ryan shirtless" got nearly 7,000 hits in Google's image search, most of them a grainy photo of him on vacation.
As for Ryan's competition, "Is Joe Biden hot?" got seven results in Google. "Joe Biden shirtless" did a bit better, with 149 hits in Google images, most of them PhotoShop jobs and links to a story on the satirical newspaper The Onion's site with the headline "Shirtless Biden washes Trans Am in White House driveway."
Ryan and Biden will be at Centre College in Danville this week for the vice presidential debate.
The search about the sex appeal of the candidates also turned up posts about a TV reporter once asking Obama if his "GQ cover looks," as she put it, made it hard for him to relate to working-class people. (His somewhat drawn-out answer seemed to be no.) And at the Web site Democraticunderground.com, there is a popular discussion thread asking "Is Obama not the best looking president we've had in decades?" (The consensus seemed to be yes.)
Recently, when he and the first lady were on The View, the president made it clear he didn't seem entirely unaware of his physical appeal, joking (or was he?) with the cast, "I told folks I'm just supposed to be eye candy here for you guys."
Of course, Obama's looks didn't go unnoticed when he was just a candidate and not yet the president. Most famously, a video called "I Got a Crush on Obama" by Amber Lee Ettinger, who became known as Obama Girl, went viral in 2007 and was named one of the decade's top memes by Newsweek.
More recently, someone spliced together various clips of the president speaking to create a video that made it appear as if he were singing the words to the LMFAO hit Sexy and I Know It, while another created one of Obama covering Justin Bieber's Boyfriend, with its opening line, "If I was your boyfriend, I'd never let you go." That video has had more than 5 million YouTube views.
Herald-Leader staff contributed to this report.