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Whether its 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.
Its a lot easier to do products for a campaign when youre 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 Romneys (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 candidates campaign, sells T-shirts and bumper stickers splashed with Romneys 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 Shoppes first product, launched in 1993, was a calendar counting down the days left in President Bill Clintons 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 Obamas 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 Obamas business just days before he announced his bid in February 2007. The day after he announced his candidacy, Tigereyes 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.