BEAVER ISLAND, Mich. -- It's turning ugly.
No, not the island itself, this haven in northern Lake Michigan where the Broder grandchildren, who are the fifth-generation beneficiaries of Uriah Hoffman's decision to build a cabin here in 1915, have been playing on the beach, pedaling their bikes to Daddy Frank's ice cream stand and riding at Beth McCafferty's stable these past few weeks.
The water and sand are as inviting as ever and the weather has been fine. But presidential politics has encroached on this idyllic scene in a way I've never seen in the 50-some years I've been coming here.
Some time late last Friday night or early Saturday morning, someone stole the "Bush for President" sign from Bill and Tammy McDonough's yard. Swiping opposition yard signs is a standard tactic in less civilized parts, but this is an island where no one locks the doors at night and people leave the keys in the car when they park and shop or go into the Shamrock for a beer.
Naturally, Billy was upset, and so he has sent off to the mainland for another sign -- "twice as big as the old one."
He has to have one because, frankly, the Bush campaign here needs bolstering as badly as the Cubs need Sammy Sosa to start hitting again.
There are John Kerry signs all over the island -- down near the ferry dock, on the back road behind town and at the foot of driveways leading to cabins in the woods.
I don't know what it means in the larger scheme of things, but the Democrats on Beaver Island think they are on a roll.
It's mostly because of one person -- Mary Stewart Scholl, the gray-haired, 65-year-old proprietor of the Toy Museum, a retail establishment that is the favorite rainy-day haven for families with children. Mary has counters filled with amazing toys and games, and for kids it is heaven.
Even on an island full of characters, Mary Scholl stands out. A talented artist whose watercolors fetch a nice price, she has converted her backyard garden into a place filled with fake Greek statuary, plus a tool shed painted in colors you would never believe could be combined.
She is also a person of decided liberal views. She grew up in Washington, D.C., where her father worked on the Truman-era restoration of the White House, and she regards the current occupants as trespassers on sacred property. Her personal favorite among the Democrats was Dennis Kucinich, but she's an ABB voter -- Anybody But Bush.
Last winter, when Michigan Democrats scheduled caucuses to elect delegates to the national convention, Mary Scholl called the party chairman in Charlevoix, the county seat, to ask where she could vote.
She was told that no plans had been made for a caucus on Beaver Island, "because there are no Democrats there."
Mary knew better. In New Deal days, the permanent residents -- mostly Irish fishing families -- had been overwhelmingly Democratic, but an influx of retirees combined with social issues such as abortion had swelled the ranks of Republicans. In 2000, Bush won Beaver Island over Al Gore, 186 to 173.
Not one to be trifled with, she insisted that the Democrats open a caucus site on the island. The party sent over the papers listing the requirements -- "no steps or stairs to impede the disabled, a big table for campaign literature, etc." -- and Mary said, "I've got just the place" -- her own front porch.
Mary expected maybe 10 or 15 people to show up on Feb. 7. Instead, 54 came "and they stayed for four hours," she said. "They were so excited to discover they weren't alone, that there were so many other Democrats."
That was the start. Kerry won the island caucus, and when he became the de facto nominee a month later, Mary was on the phone to Charlevoix again, demanding a shipment of lawn signs. She called the people who had signed in for the caucus -- and the result is visible everywhere.
The Republicans are not conceding. "We're letting them [the Democrats] have their fun now," Bill McDonough said.
"Come October, you'll see Bush-Cheney signs everywhere."
The president has bracketed Beaver Island, with recent campaign events in Marquette, on the Upper Peninsula north of here, and Traverse City, 50 miles to the south. If this election is as close as it now appears, Karl Rove may have to figure out how to land Air Force One on Beaver Island. Just to offset Mary Scholl.