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10.14.09

D.C.'s New Beefcake

How a 46-year-old Mormon congressman from Arizona became the hottest thing on Capitol Hill.

Look out, Aaron Schock, there’s a new hottest congressman in town. And like you and the president, he’s not afraid to take his top off for the benefit of the masses.

Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake, a dirty-blond, ruddy-cheeked fifth-term Republican who represents the eastern suburbs of Phoenix, embarked last summer on a solitary seven-day vacation on a deserted island in the Pacific. Flake went the full Robinson Crusoe: sleeping in a hammock, spearing fish, and building fires without the aid of matches, lighters, or gasoline. And he brought a digital camera and a tripod to document his endeavors.

"After the Mark Sanford thing, I didn't want anybody to misconstrue [my vacation]," Flake said. "I didn't want anyone to say I was hiking the Appalachian Trail."

“After the Mark Sanford thing, I didn’t want anybody to misconstrue it,” Flake said in a phone interview. “I didn’t want anyone to say I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.”

He assembled the images—the most arresting of which had the usually suit-and-tie clad congressman and devout Mormon stripping down to his swim trunks and setting his camera to self-timer mode—and gave them to The Washington Post’s Style section, along with a startlingly romantic 3,500-word account of “island life.” It opened with a paean to his wife and was published on Monday.

On political blogs, the commentariat erupted. Reason magazine’s commenters marveled at the bronzed and sculpted “libertarian beefcake” and speculated about “notches on his bedpost.” On the normally wonky Web site of congressional newspaper The Hill, comments ricocheted between opinions on Flake’s legislative priorities and caps-lock-heavy exclamatories: “SEXXXY,” “It’s good to see we have REAL MEN in DC.”

Even by the standards of GOP congressmen, Flake styles himself as a real man. He admits to working out in the House of Representatives’ gym and called the annual congressional baseball game “one of our great institutions.” A pickup basketball game last week at the White House was “the most fun thing I did this year,” right after the island vacation. “I guarded the president,” Flake said. “He must have read the scouting report, because we got there and he said, ‘I’ll take Flake.’”

As a boy growing up “on a dry, dusty ranch in Arizona,” sailing adventure books fascinated Flake. He pored over stories about maritime explorer Ernest Shackleton and found the oceanic survival book Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea enthralling. In the late ‘90s, as a member of conservative think tank the Goldwater Institute, Flake joined William F. Buckley for a sail across Long Island Sound—an experience he now considers pertinent both to his political and maritime educations.

In the late '90s, Aaron Schock, the Illinois congressman formerly thought to possess the sexiest body on the Hill, was in high school.

Named “ Hottest Freshman” of the 111th Congress at the tender age of 27—and dubbed “ House Hottie” by none other than The Daily Beast’s Meghan McCain—Schock is both the youngest member of the House and the only one whose candid poolside photos have appeared on TMZ with the caption “6-pack-o-rama.”

Could the 46-year-old Flake, a self-proclaimed “hayseed from Snowflake,” lay claim to the quarter-life legislator’s “Schockingly Hot” crown?

Noting that Aaron Schock is a “great Republican,” Flake admits, “I’m not even close.”

As for his intentions in releasing the barrel-chested island paradise pics to the public, Flake pleaded ignorance: “I’m a little embarrassed. To tell the truth, I didn’t even think of that—I forgot those [pictures] were even in there.” It is perhaps the first non-scandalous use of that final sentence by a politician.

Asked for comment on the allegation that Rep. Schock was no longer the hottest member of the House, Schock’s press secretary laughed. “I’ll let you know if we have anything to add,” he said.

Maureen O'Connor is an assistant editor at The Daily Beast.