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Utah Town Has Question About President: 'What's Not to Like?'

Like most residents of Randolph, Utah, Pat Orton, owner of Gator's Drive Inn, is a loyal supporter of President Bush. The town gave the president 95.6 percent of the vote in 2004.
Like most residents of Randolph, Utah, Pat Orton, owner of Gator's Drive Inn, is a loyal supporter of President Bush. The town gave the president 95.6 percent of the vote in 2004. (By David Finkel -- The Washington Post)

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By David Finkel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

RANDOLPH, Utah -- To get to the place where they like George W. Bush more than any other place in America, you fly west for a long time from Washington, then you drive north for a long time from Salt Lake City, and then you pull into Gator's Drive Inn, where the customer at the front of the line is ordering a patty melt.

"Patty melts! No one makes patty melts anymore," she is saying to the counterman, Ryan Louderman, who knew she wasn't local as soon as he heard the sound of a car being locked. "Can I get it without onions?" she says. "And can I get mustard? On the side? Dijon mustard?"

"I don't think we have Dijon mustard," says Louderman, who is 15 and would have voted for Bush if he could have. "I think we only have regular mustard." But he writes it down anyway and gives the order to Pat Orton, the owner and cook.

"No onions? With mustard?" says Orton, who voted for Bush in 2004 and 2000. "Oh, God, we get some weird ones" -- but she cooks it anyway, as requested, and passes the non-patty melt out to the woman, who takes a bite, declares it "fabulous" and wraps up the rest to go. She's on her way to a ski resort. She is going to be lifted by helicopter to the top of a mountain with untouched snow, and then she is going to ski down.

"Clang" goes the cowbell on the door as she leaves.

"Beep" goes the remote-controlled lock on her SUV.

"Dijon mustard," Louderman says as the woman drives away. "I don't know what Dijon mustard is. Don't care to find out, either."

On Tuesday night, when President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech, he'll be speaking to a nation that no longer approves of the job he is doing. According to recent polls, including a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend, Bush's overall approval rating -- once as high as 92 percent just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- is down to 42 percent, with the percentages even lower on specific issues, such as health care, the federal deficit and the war in Iraq.

But within that 42 percent are places where approval of Bush remains high, such as Nebraska, where it's at 55 percent, according to a recent poll, and Idaho, where it's 58 percent. Highest of all, though, at 61 percent, is Utah, which also gave him 71.5 percent of the vote in 2004, the highest of any state.

"The mind-set of Utah" is how Frank Guliuzza III, chairman of the political science department at Weber State University in Ogden, explains the percentages. Not only is Utah the nation's most Republican state, "there's a sense of loyalty and patriotism that kind of overcomes the tendency toward cynicism that is evident in the rest of the country right now," he says.

In Randolph, though -- where Bush received 95.6 percent of the vote and support for him continues to be nearly unanimous -- the mind-set is even more specific to a place that seems less a part of the modern United States than insulated from it. It isn't just mustard, but everything.

There have been no funerals here from Bush's war on terrorism. There are no unemployment lines, no homeless people sleeping in doorways, no sick people being turned away from a hospital because of a lack of insurance, no crime to speak of, no security fence needed around the reservoir, no metal detectors at the schools.


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