In 2004, Rasmussen was re-elected to the city council. In 2006, he decided to take another run at mayor. He ignored the skeptics who questioned whether a man in lipstick could lead the town, and he lost. So he ran again in 2008, only this time he altered his strategy, posting a photo of himself in a revealing black top on his website. During the town-hall debate, he squared off against Ken Hector and a candidate named Jim Squires. When all three men were asked how they planned to increase tourism, Squires and Hector pointed to the Oregon Garden, an eight-year-old, 80-acre refuge that drew about 6,000 visitors a month. Rasmussen pointed to himself. "If you're looking for a tourist attraction," he said, "elect me."
No matter what he wears, it seems, the man is a savvy politician. Describing himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal, he artfully created a campaign that resonated with people who liked things as they were. There was no need for the two stoplights Hector had installed for $1.4 million, Rasmussen argued, when stop signs would do just fine. "I had a vision of this community as it was when I was growing up," he says. "I said, 'Let's not destroy it. Let's be a really good small town.'" And so he went to war with the slogan "Keep Silverton Silverton."
On the night of the election, Rasmussen and Sage sat with a Kleenex box labeled CRYING TOWELS on one side and victory flags on the other. He won 52 percent of the vote, to Hector's 39 and Squires' 9, and Silverton, once known as the place where Clark Gable worked in a lumber mill, suddenly became a small town with big-city tolerance. These days it's not uncommon to find reporters from People magazine and TV crews from CNN shadowing the mayor as he strolls from his office downtown to the coffeehouse, where he fields questions from his constituents. When Fred Phelps, founder of the Baptist church that launched the website godhatesfags.com, led members of his congregation to Silverton from Topeka, Kansas, last November to protest the coronation of a man who carries a purse, nearly 200 residents greeted them outside City Hall. More than a few were dressed in drag. "Go home," they chanted. "We like our mayor." Sitting in the café, over a cup of coffee and a bagel, Rasmussen tears up at the memory of the brush-off Phelps and his foot soldiers received. "They were treated like freaks," he says.