CRAWFORD, Texas – Signs at the bank, the cafe and the Bottlinger Grain bins all declare Crawford — the proud home of the president's ranch — as "Bush Country."
So when the Lone Star Iconoclast, a tiny weekly that bills itself as Bush's hometown paper, endorsed Democrat John Kerry (search), there was hell to pay.
Local businesses pulled their ads and banned the paper from their stores.
"We felt a little betrayed," said Larry Nelson, manager of the Crawford Country Style, a downtown shop that sells "Luvya Dubya" trinkets and other Bush memorabilia.
Most folks in Crawford (pop. 705) wholeheartedly support the re-election of the man whose "Western White House" made their speck on the map famous. Eighty-two percent voted for President Bush in 2000.
The paper's publisher, W. Leon Smith, said he never expected such a hostile response. He knew "a person or two might pull an ad, that we might lose a subscriber or two."
"But this has turned a little more vicious," said Smith, 51, wearing a decade-old knit tie and ink pens in his white shirt pocket.
More than a dozen area businesses banded together to take out a two-page ad in a competing newspaper to endorse Bush, and all the stores in Crawford that sold The Iconoclast stopped.
Rita Kirk, a Southern Methodist University public affairs professor, said Smith should have expected a backlash from merchants who feel their lifeblood would be threatened in a town that has been bolstered by tourism since Bush's election.
"In this particular case, he made a judgment that he knew was not a prevailing popular sentiment among his readers," Kirk said. "An independent press is supposed to be just that. Of course, we all know free speech is never free."
Folks in Crawford are quick to point out that Smith does not even live here. He lives in Clifton, about 20 miles to the north, where he owns the Clifton Record and a movie theater next door and serves as mayor.
Smith started The Iconoclast after Bush bought his ranch in Crawford. He began publishing the paper in late 2000, offering school news and plenty of pictures of Crawford Pirate sporting events. As the 2000 election's outcome was battled out in the courts, the new paper endorsed Bush.
But in the recent editorial, The Iconoclast said it supports Kerry and accused the president of having a "smoke-screened agenda" and leading the United States into a "quagmire" in Iraq on flimsy pretenses.
Smith, who co-wrote the editorial, said it gave a voice to a minority of Crawford residents who do not feel they can speak their minds without being "pounced upon."
"People are telling us that they read the editorial and that it reflects the way they feel," Smith said. "They felt like we had stepped out and done that in a very bold way right in the heart of where the problem is."
To many in Crawford, though, the editorial was a slap in the face on the same week as the town's biggest event of the year — the annual Tonkawa Traditions Festival, which features a parade, a street dance and lawnmower races.
"If it wasn't the week of the Tonkawa Traditions, it would have still been upsetting," said Nick Spanos, owner of the Coffee Station, a convenience store and cafe where Bush sometimes dines when he is in town. "But that on top of it just made it a little bit worse."
"The rest of the nation looked at that and saw it as Crawford — the president's adopted hometown — didn't even support him. That's as far from the truth as you can possibly get," said Mike Westerfield, 49, a lifelong Crawford resident who praises Bush as a "down-home, God-fearing, family loving Texan."
Smith said he hopes tempers cool and his relations with Crawford merchants improve after the election.
Asked about that possibility, Spanos replied, "With him? Hell, no."