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President Bush touches the face of Democrat Henry Cuellar after his State of the Union at the Capitol in Washington Wed., Feb. 1, 2006. The photo has led to a surge in online donations to Cuellar's rivals in next month's Democratic primary.
President Bush touches the face of Democrat Henry Cuellar after his State of the Union at the Capitol in Washington Wed., Feb. 1, 2006. The photo has led to a surge in online donations to Cuellar's rivals in next month's Democratic primary. (AP Photo/The Washington Post, Rich Lipski)

Photo with Bush helps congressman's rival

SAN ANTONIO --A photo of President Bush cupping the cheeks of Rep. Henry Cuellar at last week's State of the Union address has been the gift that keeps on giving for Cuellar's chief rival for the Democratic nomination.

The Washington Post picture of Cuellar beaming as the president holds his face is a boffo hit on the Internet, inspiring humorous-caption contests and accusations that Cuellar is a stealth Republican.

Cuellar's Democratic rival, Ciro Rodriguez, has produced a leaflet centered around the photo. It reads: "George Bush thinks Henry Cuellar is `chulo'" -- Spanish slang for "pretty boy."

Before the picture came out, Rodriguez, a former congressman trying to regain the House seat he lost in 2004 to Cuellar, had been low on money, momentum and a memorable message.

But the Rodriguez campaign said the picture has generated more than $80,000 in contributions in little more than a week and given a major boost to his supporters a month before the Democratic primary.

"The saying goes, `A picture tells you a thousand words,'" Rodriguez said. "Well, in this case, it's gone beyond a thousand, especially on the dollars."

The photo flap became even richer when it was revealed that Cuellar listened to the State of the Union address while standing on the Republican side of the aisle. Cuellar also served briefly as Texas secretary of state under GOP Gov. Rick Perry

Colin Strother, a Cuellar spokesman, said that Cuellar is a true Democrat regardless of where he chose to listen to the speech, and that the photo is being blown out of proportion.

"Henry was far from the only Democrat to share a moment with the president that evening -- he was just the one immortalized on camera," Strother said. "We're moving forward, and whatever Ciro chooses to do with the photo is up to his campaign."

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