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The Race for Campaign Wear

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Political paraphernalia is big business, particularly in a presidential election year. Here’s some of what’s available at Political Americana, a store on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.

Correction Appended

Whether it’s Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) courting minority voters with “Hispanics for McCain” hats or Rep. Tom Allen (D) appealing to sensible Mainers with preppy golf shirts touting his Senate bid, merchandise can be a subtle but important piece of a campaign.

For a handful of merchandise companies headed by wannabe campaign warriors, it can also be a lucrative way to be politically involved.

“It’s a lot easier to do products for a campaign when you’re gung-ho about the guy,” said Brian Harlin, owner of GOP Shoppe.

Harlin is a staunch Republican who produced all the T-shirts, buttons and signs for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s (R) failed presidential campaign. An early Romney fan who volunteered for the campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, Harlin has used his resources at GOP Shoppe to launch mittforveep.com, a grass-roots Web site pushing Romney for vice president. The low-grade Web site, which is not affiliated with the former candidate’s campaign, sells T-shirts and bumper stickers splashed with Romney’s chiseled face.

A University of Maryland graduate and Maryland native, Harlin is a political junkie who views his business as a way to help Republican candidates and attack Democrats. GOP Shoppe’s first product, launched in 1993, was a calendar counting down the days left in President Bill Clinton’s term.

“The Clinton years gave us plenty of material,” Harlin said. “The anti-Clinton stuff actually sold better than the positive Republican stuff.”

Becoming an official paraphernalia vendor for a campaign can be a campaign in itself.

Executives at Tigereye Design, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s official outfitter, were so inspired by the young Illinois Senator that they vied for his business even before his presidential campaign was officially launched. Wooing the Senator with all the passion of a contested election, sending samples and phone banking his office, Tigereye secured Obama’s business just days before he announced his bid in February 2007. The day after he announced his candidacy, Tigereye’s sales increased fourfold.

“We were shocked at how fast the orders came in,” said Steve Swallow, an Obama supporter and chief operating officer for Tigereye, which has outfitted Democratic campaigns for 30 years.

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