In Bush hometown, weekly newspaper comes out for Kerry

Publisher of paper in Crawford, Texas, says president `let us down'

September 29, 2004|By Peter Wallsten | Peter Wallsten,LOS ANGELES TIMES

CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush might be leading in the national polls, but yesterday he awoke at his ranch in conservative central Texas to find the hometown newspaper had endorsed his Democratic challenger, John Kerry.

Never mind that a huge sign on the five grain silos that loom over the center of town declares this "Bush Country," or that it is Bush-Cheney signs that adorn the Yellow Rose gift shop. Ignore the fact that the same paper endorsing Kerry also proclaims in blue and red: "Crawford, Texas ... Hometown of the President of the United States!"

The weekly Lone Star Iconoclast backed Bush in 2000. Yesterday, it devoted half of Page 2 to its endorsement and topped it: "Kerry Will Restore American Dignity." The editorial, penned by publisher W. Leon Smith, assailed Bush for his policies on Social Security, Medicare, taxes and stem cell research.

It called the Iraq war "deadly and highly questionable" and said the country was "duped" by the argument that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"We were ready to follow Bush's lead through any travail," Smith wrote. "He let us down."

The editorial urged Texans "not to rate the candidate by his hometown or even his political party, but instead by where he intends to take the country."

Smith, a Democrat, runs the Iconoclast from nearby Clifton, where he is also the mayor and the publisher of that town's newspaper. He said publishing the Kerry endorsement was "probably the hardest journalistic decision I've ever had to make."

"It was an easy decision to make that we preferred Kerry over Bush, but it was a hard decision about whether we should run the editorial," Smith said. "We knew there would be people lashing back at us.

"This is Texas, and there are quite a few people here who are going to support Bush no matter what happens in the world and no matter what he does. He's really one of us."

The Iconoclast, with 425 subscribers, is a fairly recent addition to life in Crawford. It opened in 2000 to fill a void in a town that had gone without a local newspaper for 35 years, since the Crawford Sun merged with the nearby McGregor Mirror.

Smith said he has received "pats on the back and kicks in the butt" from many in this town of 750, where Bush has spent most of his vacations since becoming president. But, as he expected, the kicks have outweighed the pats.

"They think the Taliban and I are in cahoots," Smith said of locals complaining about the endorsement.

At the Yellow Rose, one of a handful of businesses that have opened since Bush bought the ranch while he was Texas' governor, manager Teresa Bowdoin rolled her eyes when a reporter asked whether she sold the paper at the store.

"I'd just as soon burn it," she said. "I understand it's a free world, but sometimes I feel like they're shoving the free world down our throats."

The White House downplayed the editorial's potential impact.

"I haven't seen that, but I feel pretty confident about the people of Crawford and the state of Texas in this election and where they stand," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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