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Kennebunkport, Me., Signs Say Vote Democratic : Bush Neighbors Fear Influx of Tourists

Associated Press

In this staunchly Republican town that Vice President George Bush calls his summer home, bumper stickers are urging residents to “Save Kennebunkport, Vote Democratic ’88.”

While Bush is enjoying a surge in popularity in post-GOP convention polls, the stickers appearing on dozens of cars and trucks in this coastal resort community reflect the oft-heard grumbling that Bush’s presidential candidacy is ruining the tourist trade--and the town.

“A Bush presidency would make this place so busy it would be unbearable,” said resident Jason Wentworth. “Already it’s full of people streaming in to see his house.”

Wentworth, a member of the York County Democratic Party, has printed and sold more than 750 of the anti-Bush bumper stickers in the last couple of months.

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He said they are intended to help save Kennebunkport from the tourist traffic chaos threatened by a Bush presidency as much as they are meant to be a political statement.

Busy Summer

When Bush effectively clinched the GOP nomination with primary victories last March, the 2,900 year-round residents looked forward to a busy summer tourist season because of Bush’s occasional presence here.

The crowds, indeed, are big. But they don’t stay, and they hardly spend any money.

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Instead, many of the tourists visit for only an hour or two, driving past the Bush estate on picturesque Walker’s Point, stopping to snap a photo and then motoring back to Interstate 95.

“A lot of people come up to see where he lives,” said Mary Drake, owner of a downtown gift shop. “They don’t come to shop.”

Nearly every hotel, inn and guest house in Kennebunkport has vacancies. Stores report declining sales, and many businesses say fewer tourist dollars are being spent than in any year in recent memory.

Ask how business has been this summer, and the usual response is: “Don’t ask,” or “It’s so, so slow.” Hopes for a profitable season have been cast aside like undersized lobsters, which are this town’s other big money-maker.

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“It’s been really, really slow compared to the last couple of years,” said Julie Brown as she surveyed the empty Strudel Shop restaurant.

“When he (Bush) is in town, for a couple days it’s real busy, but then it slows down,” she said.

Matthew Treadwell, who works at the Indian Whale Watch, a tour boat company less than 2 miles from Bush’s home, said there’ve been only two sold-out cruises so far this summer, even with excellent weather and numerous whale sightings. Last year at this time, the figure was 20.

Doesn’t Blame Bush

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At Mabel’s Lobster Claw Restaurant, where Bush frequently dines when he is visiting, Mabel Hanson bemoans the slow season but is reluctant to blame the vice president.

“I don’t think it has anything to do with Mr. Bush, but we’re having a terrible summer,” she said.

Why? “Everybody’s got their own opinion,” said Susan Savell, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. Some say it’s a sign of bad economic times. Others say it’s been too hot, too cold, too rainy.

But privately, many locals complain that Bush’s presence has scared away tourists who fear nightmarish crowds and traffic jams.

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“People are afraid to come up, but it’s not like that at all. It’s just dead,” said Gerda Towne, owner of two downtown stores.

Bush’s seaside compound, situated at the end of a rocky peninsula in southern Maine, has become the major tourist attraction in town.

Traffic is nearly always heavy near his home. Motorists park next to no-parking signs lining the twisting, two-lane road, and clamber onto the shore to take pictures.

Kennebunkport Police Lt. Robert Sullivan confirms that traffic has been heavier around the Bush estate this summer, but he said traffic became a serious problem about a decade ago. He wouldn’t blame Bush for that.

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Wentworth said many Republicans have bought his anti-Bush bumper stickers to show their concern for the future of Kennebunkport in the event of a Bush presidency.

“The town was never meant to handle the kind of traffic that’s already coming in,” Wentworth said, “I feel that much of that is due to him, and he’s not even President yet.”


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