GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado – A billboard depicting Barack Obama as an Islamist suicide bomber, a gay and a Mexican bandit has triggered a storm of criticism in a western US city weeks ahead of crucial polls.
The colourful poster of the US president -- under the ironic slogan "Vote DemocRAT" -- is attracting attention from media worldwide and from people clogging a local parking lot for a closer look.
"It's beyond distasteful, and it's disrespectful of the commander-in-chief," said Martelle Daniels, chairwoman of the local Mesa County Democrats, calling it "clearly racist and homophobic."
"Certainly (it) is not designed for intelligent discourse at all," she added in Grand Junction, in the western US state of Colorado.
Beneath the cartoonish figures of Obama -- also depicted as a cigar-chomping gangster -- are rats, labeled as trial lawyers, the Inland Revenue Service (IRS), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Reserve bank.
Chuck Pabst, the local Republican Party chairman, told the local paper the Grand Junction Sentinel that the billboard is in bad taste.
"It's reprehensible and disrespectful, and that's not what any honorable person would put forth," Pabst said. "To ridicule somebody in this manner is juvenile."
Politically, Mesa County is Republican-dominated and increasingly conservative, with several active Tea Party organizations -- which are making waves ahead of mid-term elections next month.
After two years in the White House, Obama is struggling to avoid a drubbing for his Democratic party in the November 2 ballots, and the race is getting increasingly hard-fought as the polls get nearer.
The provocative picture is the work of artist Paul Snover, who frequently posts on constitutionalist and Tea Party websites.
Snover couldn't be reached by AFP for comment, but he told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in an e-mail that he is "not allowed to say" who paid for the billboard.
Dennis Lucas, a Grand Junction businessman who owns the billboard, said, "I cannot tell you who it's rented to," and hung up.
Doris Downey, the owner of a company whose parking lot is being invaded by people taking a closer look, is angry that her business is being disrupted.
"I have no problem with freedom of speech, but I do have a problem with causing problems for others, and this is causing problems for us on top of all this," she said.
"I don't know who commissioned that thing, which I think is despicable, but they should own up to it," Downey said. "Anonymous opinion gets no respect from me."
© AFP 2013