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At Newsstands Everywhere, the Honorable Beach Babe From Illinois

Photographs of then-presidential candidate John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) windsurfing in a tight wetsuit made waves when they appeared in 2004.
Photographs of then-presidential candidate John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) windsurfing in a tight wetsuit made waves when they appeared in 2004. (By Laura Rauch -- Associated Press)

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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The just-out issue of People magazine, the one that says "Julia Pregnant!" on its cover, has a two-page spread titled "BEACH BABES."

There's Catherine Zeta-Jones in a teeny string bikini, Penelope Cruz in a cleavage shot on a boogie board, Jessica Alba in a skimpy fuchsia bandeau bikini, and hunky Australian actor Hugh Jackman shirtless in Nevis.

Then there's the junior senator from Illinois. Rounding out the Beach Babes spread is a New Year's Day photo of Barack Obama in the Hawaiian surf. We see his well-defined pecs, his perfectly hairless torso, just a bit of padding around the abs and a drawstring dangling from his form-fitting surfer trunks. The aspiring presidential candidate splashes through the water and squints into the distance; he is transformed into Burt Lancaster in "From Here to Eternity."

"I really appreciate you toting that around," Obama said with evident sarcasm yesterday when presented with the image as he left a news conference in the Senate TV gallery on ethics laws. "Thank you very much."

The senator was more appropriately attired, in a navy business suit and pale-blue tie, but he was uncharacteristically flustered as he sought to explain the photo.

"You know, it's uh --," he attempted.

And: "It's embarrassing."

And: "You know, I have no idea what beach it was taken on."

And: "It was, it was, it's uh, it's uh, paparazzi!"

Obama noticed that Jay Newton-Small of Bloomberg News was studying the image. "Stop looking at it!" he mock-scolded, and hustled away.

Newton-Small offered her critique. "He does look slimmer in his work suits," the young woman judged, but she allowed that he "looks good for his age."

Such candid photos -- the People shot of Obama was, as the senator suspected, done by a paparazzi agency that People identified as Fame Pictures -- can be damaging to a politician. Few can forget, try though they might, the Agence France-Presse photo nine years ago of a fleshy Bill and Hillary Clinton dancing on the beach in bathing suits. And the shots of John Kerry windsurfing in his skintight wetsuit proved poisonous to his presidential aspirations.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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