PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) _ Mr. Potato Head, the plastic spud with the interchangeable features, has been selected as the symbol of a new state tourism campaign. Not by the state of Idaho, but Rhode Island.

Mr. Potato Head is a homegrown spud, produced by Pawtucket-based toymaker Hasbro Inc. And as part of a campaign dubbed ``Rhode Island _ The Birthplace of Fun,'' 6-foot statues of him will greet visitors around the state.

The advertising campaign will also include ads in national magazines.

Gov. Lincoln Almond held a mock swearing-in ceremony Thursday, naming the toy the state's official travel ambassador.

``With Mr. Potato Head sprouting up in our communities, Rhode Island will peel ahead of the crop when it comes to attracting visitors from around the world,'' Almond said.

But what about Idaho, where spuds come in 50-pound bags rather than 160-pound statues?

``We're not trying to usurp their territory,'' said Becky Bovell of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.'s tourism division. ``I think that they're safe in that their potatoes are to be consumed and ours are to be enjoyed.''

The Mr. Potato Head statues were designed by local artists with different themes. The first 20 will go up over several days, followed by another 20 or more as corporate sponsors sign on.

There's Salty Spud, dressed in orange raingear with a fishing net in one hand. There's one covered in sand with seaweed hair, starfish eyes and a mouth of shells. Another wears horn-rimmed sunglasses and a bikini.

``I thought, I can't do this, it's ridiculous. We were laughing all day,'' said artist Linda Dewing, who created The Independent Potato, a golden spud leaning on an anchor and designed to look like the state symbol, The Independent Man.

Hasbro sponsored one of the statues, donated many of the toys for giveaways and waived licensing fees for use of the spud's likeness. The state contributed 200,000 for advertising and other expenses.

The campaign comes at a time when Hasbro is working to make Mr. Potato Head its corporate symbol. Mr. Potato Head, first made in 1952, was one of Hasbro's first toys and has seen a burst in popularity from its role in the ``Toy Story'' movies.

``What Mickey and Minnie Mouse are to Disney, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head will be to Hasbro,'' company presient Herbert Baum said.


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