ONALASKA, Wis. – Those who dabble in roadside political prose are getting as pointed in their criticism as the candidates are of each other.
Unable to speak to either Bush or Kerry, voters scrawl messages on bedsheets, posterboard, T-shirts, scraps of cardboard — and even their bellies — to catch the eye of the candidates as they roll across the nation in search of votes.
Signs that say "Hope is on the way" or "A Fresh Start for America" often greet Kerry. Urged one sign in Las Cruces, N.M., "Kerry Bush back to Texas."
Negative messages reach the candidates, too. When Kerry attended a town-hall meeting in Xenia, Ohio, huge pictures of aborted fetuses greeted him, along with a two-story sign that said, "Vote the Bible — take a stand for morality." Kerry supports abortion rights and defends the Supreme Court decision establishing them.
In western Wisconsin, where Bush has hunted for swing Democrats, a cardboard yard sign said: "Great job, Bush. Good huntin' (bin Laden)," a reference to the terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Evidence of the political divide in this swing state, pro-Kerry supporters down the street who don't like the war in Iraq waved signs that read: "Pro-life? Then stop the killing." Last week, as voting started in Florida, a sign said: "Hey George, we already voted and it wasn't for you." The president never saw that one. He arrived at the podium via helicopter.
The virtual tie in the polls only has heightened the political tension curbside. And it's getting personal.
Anti-war signs tell the president, "Send your kids to war." Some just say, "Draft the twins," a reference to his daughters.
In Fort Myers, Fla., last week, a pro-Kerry supporter held a placard that read: "No CARBs and absolutely no Rice." The sign and its acronym were a no-confidence vote for Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Bush and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Despite the fervor in both camps, friendly signs still outnumber the mean-spirited ones.
Sometimes, the message is a last-minute impulse. Bush already had arrived in Canton, Ohio, but two men were still busy dipping brushes in cans of brown paint, writing "Go Bush 4 More," on an ivory-colored garage door.
Other supporters resort to body language. Four fingers stabbed in the air means Bush for four more years; two thumbs down means either toss Bush from office or elect the new guy.
One woman on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signaled her opposition to Kerry as his motorcade rolled by. Standing in the street, the bikini-clad woman held up three fingers — the election-year symbol for Bush's middle initial, W.
As Bush's campaign buses rolled through western Wisconsin, about 100 miles outside Madison, three boys raised their shirts to expose their bellies — one painted with "BU," one with "SH" and the third with an exclamation point.