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Campaign signs being stolen, defaced in Washington County

October 20, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Campaign signs for GOP presidential nominee John McCain and his Democratic rival Barack Obama have been stolen, burned and "slashed to bits."

In a tense political season, the ugliness of the campaign trail has been evident in vandalized signs seen in Hagerstown. Signs for McCain in at least two locations were defaced by the word "No" spray-painted in orange.

Some have taken measures to protect their signs.

A sign for the Republican nominee on Summit Avenue warns that a camera is fixed on the sign and that vandals will be seen.

Elsewhere, signs for Obama have been stolen, but little vandalism has been reported.

Both Patricia Heck, chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic Central Committee, and Liz Jones, treasurer of the Washington County Republican Club and chairwoman of the county's John McCain campaign, say many of their candidates' signs have been stolen or vandalized.

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Heck said last week that at least 13 Barack Obama signs were taken from one road in Clear Spring and about 40 were missing from various parts of the county. She said she's noticed more signs being stolen during this election season than in 2004, but said there was quite a bit of theft during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign.

"It's just pathetic that people are stooping to this level," Jones said of the stolen and defaced signs supporting John McCain. "It's just ridiculous. We're just very frustrated with it right now."

She said volunteers were able to repair some larger signs that were defaced in Hagerstown, but Jones said dozens have been stolen in Washington County.

Not all of them have been stolen, though.

Jones said one larger McCain sign across from South Hagerstown High School was destroyed, and it appeared a vehicle backed into it.

"It was just horrible. It was busted into pieces and left in a pile," Jones said. "It's been pretty nasty vandalism."

A woman in the West End said it appeared that someone took a blade and ripped through her McCain sign, leading Jones to believe that it might be more than children playing a prank.

Another hint is that the vandals are being selective, Jones said. Signs for U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Washington County Board of Education candidate Justin M. Hartings, who is running in a nonpartisan race, also are available at the Republican headquarters, Jones said. She's heard that McCain signs often are being vandalized or stolen, and signs for Bartlett and Hartings are left untouched.

Washington County School Board candidates say some of their signs also have been taken. Almost all of the eight candidates reported having at least one sign removed.

Tri-State law enforcement officials say they've had sporadic complaints about stolen and destroyed campaign signs.

Sgt. Doug White with the Washington County Sheriff's Office said it's difficult to prosecute sign thieves unless they are caught in the act.

The Chambersburg (Pa.) Police Department stopped a vehicle Oct. 9 filled with 22 campaign signs, most for McCain, and police said they were investigating how the signs came to be in the vehicle, The Herald-Mail has reported.

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