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AUSTIN, Tex. -- In the front window of the Congress Avenue Card Shop in downtown Austin, a tacky cardboard cutout of Elvis Presley wears a white T-shirt bearing a very simple message. In blue block lettering it says: "I mailed the debate tape." To Austinites, the shirt is nothing more than a city-wide inside joke. It's a play on the still-unsolved mystery surrounding a Bush debate rehearsal tape that ended up in the hands of a Gore ally in the days leading up to the first presidential debate. Such questionable humor, of course, would likely fall upon deaf ears in every other city in America. But then again, every other city in America isn't Austin -- the small central Texas town that's been capital of the Lone Star state for 160 years and home to the presidential campaign of its governor and favorite son for all of the past two. As thousands of Bush supporters and members of the media descend upon this 500,000-person city today to celebrate and witness the GOP candidate's Election Day activities, the spotlight on Austin will shine brighter tonight than perhaps ever before. And with such attention, the focus on the city itself -- which, like Bush, tries to embody both traditional and modern ideals -- has likewise grown intense. "Things are moving a lot faster around here than they used to," Card Shop owner and lifelong Austin resident Elizabeth Wendland said. Situated just two blocks down the street from Bush's campaign headquarters, Wendland's shop has been in the same location for nearly 20 years, peddling an assortment of state-themed souvenirs -- Texas flags, Texas hot pepper sauce, framed photos of Willie Nelson. And if you ask Wendland what she's noticed most about Austin and its most famous resident over the years, she'll say that the successes of this once-sleepy town have more to do with computers than campaigns. "More than anything, this city has changed because of what [Dell Computer founder] Michael Dell has done," she said. "The technology and computer industries have really made the biggest difference in this city." She couldn't be more right. In recent years, companies like Dell have taken up residence here in the Texas capital, bringing with them an influx of money and young minds to a city traditionally known only as a college town -- home of the University of Texas at Austin. The historic brick and stucco buildings lining the sides of Congress Avenue now find themselves home to Wall Street investment firms, graphic design shops and trendy art galleries -- as well as the mom-and-pop stores and coffee shops that for years dominated Austin's small-town lifestyle. But such modernization hasn't changed the very character of the city all that much, Wendland and others said, since most Austinites still value traditional Texas values above all else. And those values -- more so than Bush's reputation or track record -- may just explain why the Texas chief executive has drawn such heavy support from his hometown neighbors. "I think he's definitely getting a lot of support here just because he's from Texas," 21-year-old Southwest Texas University senior Leeanne Thomas said, as she sipped coffee and did homework in a new downtown Starbucks. "I think his support here is basically just because he's from Texas," Wendland agreed. "He has done a good job here, but our legislature has a lot to do with that success." As Bush prepares to make his acceptance or concession speech here tonight before a crowd expected to number more than 20,000, he would likely benefit by thanking the folks back home who have formed the basis of his support from the very beginning. Because whether they worked in his campaign office, spoke out on his behalf or even just cast a ballot in his name, it's conceivable that Bush would be nowhere without the help of his hometown crowd -- as well as the 32 electoral votes that they will almost certainly cast in his favor today. Thomas said Texans' rabid support of their governor branches out into even the most unexpected of forums. "When I went to the Pearl Jam concert in Houston, Eddie Vedder was on stage talking about how great Gore was -- and everyone was booing," she said. "I couldn't imagine the crowd booing anyone else's name." Campaign officials agree that Bush has certainly taken his state by storm. "I think the state of Texas and city of Austin have been exceptionally supportive of Gov. Bush," campaign spokesman Ken Lisaius said. "Everyone on the campaign enjoys living in Austin. It's a great city -- great music, great food, great nightlife and definitely a great college town."

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