The Kerry campaign smells a rat in the widely circulated snapshot that shows its man wrapped head-to-toe in a baby blue outfit.
"This was a leaked photo," Mary Beth Cahill (search), campaign manager for John Kerry, said an interview with FOX News on Tuesday.
No media photographers were in attendance Monday when Kerry toured a facility at the Kennedy Space Center with famed astronaut John Glenn and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida. All the men wore anti-contamination suits (search).
Asked by FOX News' Brit Hume if a dirty trick was being played, Cahill didn't answer the question directly but said: "What do you think?"
"This was a legitimate tour of a NASA facility and this photograph came out of absolutely nowhere. We were surprised then. We aren't surprised now."
A NASA spokesman told FOX News that the space agency provided one photographer to document Kerry's tour but said NASA (search) did not release any images to the media.
Instead, the photographs were given to the Kerry campaign to review before several were posted on the Kennedy Space Center Web site. In no way were photographs "leaked," the spokesman said.
For Republicans, the photo flap could turn into the kind of opportunity the party had in 1988 when that year's Democratic nominee — Michael Dukakis — was snapped riding a tank and wearing a helmet that was way too big for his head. Dukakis was leading then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in the polls, but Dukakis' standing fell fast after the photo incident.
Asked about the significance of the photo of Kerry, Republican chairman Ed Gillespie (search) smiled broadly and said, "We just thought it was a great photo."