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Photo of Kerry Suits the Tabloids

Times Staff Writer

When Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, his campaign hoped that the backdrop of the famed shuttle launch site would evoke images of exploration and science.

Instead, the photo that was splashed across the nation’s largest tabloid newspapers was less than statesmanlike: Kerry, dressed in a hooded “bunny suit,” peering out of the hatch that leads to the space shuttle.

The papers were merciless. Under a banner headline that read “Spaceman Kerry’s goofy photo flub,” the New York Post suggested that Kerry looked like the sperm character Woody Allen played in his 1972 comedy, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.”

The image disrupted the campaign’s carefully choreographed rollout of Kerry this week as the Democratic presidential nominee, detracting from a series of events designed to portray him as strong and sure-footed. “Photo Flap Mars Dems’ First Night,” blared the New York Daily News, saying the “goofy-looking” outfit was at odds with former President Clinton’s praise for Kerry on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention.

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Frustrated Kerry aides said the campaign had been blindsided by the pictures, which were snapped by NASA photographers accompanying Kerry on his tour of the space center.

During the tour, the campaign said, NASA officials offered to take Kerry into the sterile area where the shuttle Discovery was being prepared for its next flight.

Aides were told the candidate would have to wear sterile coveralls to enter the facility, but they did not see the full-length baby blue “bunny suit” that Kerry donned. The campaign said the photos were taken when Kerry’s aides were not present and were distributed by NASA before they saw the images.

Republicans wasted no time seizing on the photos, plastering copies on the walls throughout their temporary office suite a block from the FleetCenter in Boston. The Kerry campaign dismissed suggestions that the photo damaged Kerry’s image.

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William Johnson, deputy chief of media services at Kennedy Space Center, said he was surprised by the flap. Johnson said a NASA photographer recently took a picture of space center Director James W. Kennedy clad in the “bunny suit,” in the same pose. The photo was so popular that Kennedy’s alma mater, Auburn University, ran the image on the cover of its magazine, Johnson said.

“It’s a great shot,” he said. “It’s a hero shot.”

Times staff writer Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.


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