A billboard in West Plains showing a caricature of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wearing a turban and using his middle name -- Hussein -- in quotes has sparked outrage and accusations of racism.
The sign, located south of West Plains on U.S. 63 across from the Dairy Queen, says: "Barack 'Hussein' Obama equals more abortions, same sex marriages, taxes, gun regulations."
Outrage over the sign triggered West Plains resident Becky Estes to write a letter in Monday's edition of the Daily Quill newspaper saying "such a tasteless display merely reinforces the wide-spread belief that Ozarkers are ignorant country bumpkins."
"People don't like it. They're embarrassed by that sign, ashamed by that sign, horrified by that sign and outraged by that sign," Estes told the News-Leader on Thursday.
Estes' letter sparked responses from locals and out-of-state former residents in Wednesday's newspaper. The person who created the sign remains anonymous.
"I can find nothing wrong with this sign/cartoon, which is truthful by Obama's own statements," wrote James E. (Jay) Gentry Jr. of Mountain Grove. "If this is upsetting to Ms. Estes, then she should do some hard thinking about what is forthcoming if he is elected."
Raymond Fine, 74, of West Plains, said the sign is a form of free speech.
"If they can burn a flag, then they can put a sign up like that," Fine told the News-Leader.
Lesa Hall, a Democratic voter from West Plains, said it's not the message she takes issue with -- it's the use of Obama's middle name and the hand-drawn picture of him wearing a white turban.
"My offense was the stereotype and the racism that I felt that the billboard presented," said Hall, a teacher at the Junction Hill Middle School.
A spokeswoman for Obama's Missouri campaign, which has an office in West Plains, dismissed the sign as a distraction.
"Missouri voters aren't going to fall for these kinds of distractions," said spokeswoman Jean Weinberg. "The stakes are too high in this election."
Obama has said he supports a women's right to choose whether to abort an unwanted pregnancy, but opposes same-sex marriage. He does support civil unions to give equal legal rights and privileges to those couples, including access to a partner's health care benefits, property and adoption rights.
Obama's tax proposals call for a tax hike on the richest 5 percent, but tax cuts for all other workers.
On the subject of gun control, the Illinois senator has voted against conceal carry weapons laws, voted to ban certain types of guns used for hunting and supported increasing federal taxes on ammunition, according to his congressional and state senate voting records.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama has fought Internet rumors that he's Muslim. Hussein, an Arabic name commonly associated with the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is Obama's middle name. His Kenyan father was Muslim, but Obama grew up in a Christian family.
Howell County Democrats are upset about the sign.
"Not only is it lying, but it's also in poor taste," said Jim Vokac, president of the Howell County Democrats Club. "It certainly is free speech, but it's poor taste. It does reflect poorly on the area."