Howdy from the home of the 'toxic Texan'

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The Independent US

Pilgrims or protesters driving down the stretch of highway 84 which has been renamed the George Bush Parkway towards the Bush ranch might notice a sign by the local electric co-operative proclaiming it is "proud to provide power to the President and his First Lady". Or they could buy a postcard with the message: "Howdy from the home of President George W Bush."

Since the President moved into his 1,600-acre ranch in 1999, life in Crawford has never been quite the same. Once a small farming community firmly off the radar of international politics, it has now become accustomed to its quiet streets becoming grid-locked and its tiny population of 705 swamped by protesters, official delegations and journalists.

It was Greenpeace activists, angry with the "Toxic Texan's" environmental policies, who first had the idea of demonstrating there. But the town has since been exploited by campaigners desperate to convey their anti-Iraq war message. Thanks to the ever-present television cameras, the gesture is almost certain to be relayed across the world.

For Crawfordians, such confrontations with critics of the Bush administration have been a shock. Although one of its newspapers, the Lone Star Iconoclast, declared for John Kerry in last year's election, the majority of residents are proudly Republican. But the benefits of becoming a must-visit for the political tourist outweigh otherwise unwelcome criticism of the President. As long as, for every protester, a fan also comes to town, most Crawford citizens will put up with rowdy critics of its golden boy.