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Hail to the Gnome Chief

(The Chicago Tribune Newspaper )
By Jenna Cho, Tribune Newspapers: Hartford Courant; Tribune staff reporter Elaine Matsushita contributed to this story
Published September 26, 2004

There's no mistaking the 10-inch-tall ceramic man in the neighbor's yard. It's George Dubya, giving passersby a thumbs up.

The presidential gnome, mass-produced and hand-painted in Roseville, Ohio, is robed in a blue long-sleeve shirt, a belt with a yellow lone star buckle and cowboy boots. His ears protrude in gnome-like fashion from under a pointy red cap. Each gnome costs $29.95.

" I think it's humorous," said Sam Girton, creator of the Bushgnomes and a professor of visual communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. "I think that people are ready for some election news that's light."

The garden gnome's political agenda remains ambiguous. The gnome likenesses of the 43rd president raise their left hand in a confident thumbs-up. Their right hand remains hidden behind their back, fingers crossed.

The apparent gesture of deceit doesn't seem to bother the Republicans. The gnomes have been bought by voters of both parties since they started selling on Girton's Web site, www.bushgnome.com, in late August.

" I had a lot of Republicans say that he's really cute and his fingers are crossed for good luck," said Girton, a 36-year-old Democrat.

" I think that no matter what side you're on, you look at it and you just laugh," Girton said.
Girton got the idea for the Bushgnomes from political cartoons, where Bush would be depicted with large ears. "And I thought that he would kind of look like a garden gnome," he said.

Enlisting the help of a friend and Marvel Comics cartoonist, he got started.

Girton is pleased with the response, estimating that about 500 are back-ordered, and is gearing up to produce Kerry gnomes if Sen. John Kerry is elected. "It takes so long to tool up that I wouldn't be able to get it out before the election. If he wins, definitely, I'm doing Kerry stuff. I've got others in the works, but I'm keeping them a surprise.

" This thing is like the Tickle Me Elmo of the election year. It's really taken off."

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