No matter what happens between now and Election Day, one group is guaranteed to win — the promotional products industry, which is turning toys, food products and all manner of apparel into official and unofficial campaign paraphernalia.
To get out the swing vote, supporters of both George W. Bush and John Kerry offer golf balls endorsing their candidates. Kerry and Bush are also depicted on novelty fishing lures. By November, we'll learn which is more appealing to voters and to bass.
There's no stopping the growing array of campaign buttons, mugs, magnets, T-shirts, and other campaign paraphernalia — a business that's bigger than ever.
"This is definitely the No. 1 event for us," says Bill Prickett of the Promotional Products Association International, a group of 7,000 manufacturers and distributors that sells $16 billion worth of merchandise a year. "It wouldn't be bad for us if every year was an election year."
Campaign buttons go back as far as George Washington, and new printing technologies make it possible to print almost anything on almost anything, allowing Democrats and Republicans to get more creative in their ruthless attacks.
Indeed, both candidates are on a roll … of toilet paper. Fortune cookies are made to order for whatever outcome your political interest group desires, even "Nader Wins!" They may not be officially approved by a candidate or party, but that doesn't stop politically minded folks.
"As soon as John Edwards joined the [Democratic] ticket, we snapped into action. We didn't have much time," says Sharon Young of PoliticalShop.com, which manufactures and sells campaign buttons to both sides.
"You can sell buttons that make fun of a candidate and still do business with that candidate's campaign," says Young. "That's politics."
But the line is being redrawn this year, with vigorous and more negative campaigning, and folks in the promotional products industry couldn't be happier.
After a brief dip following 9/11, the industry is enjoying a boom.
"Before Sept. 11, I would have said that our industry is recession-proof. We had 20 years of consecutive growth," says Prickett. "We've rebounded and we're the fastest-growing advertising medium."
With the campaign paraphernalia people working overtime and enjoying the economic prosperity both parties are promising, let's take a look at some of the slogans and products that might help define the 2004 election.
1. Democratic Slogans: The No C.A.R.B. Diet
In the age of Atkins, the Dems are offering Americans the "No C.A.R.B. Diet: No Cheney, No Ashcroft, No Rumsfeld, No Bush … and absolutely no Rice!"
That's the hottest anti-Bush campaign button, according to politicalstore.com. Another slogan playing on today's headlines: "Stop Mad Cowboy Disease," featuring the president as a cartoon cowboy.
"Let's Not Elect Him in 2004, Either!" on tote bags indicates the residual anger over the last presidential election. Other chestnuts: "I survived the 2000 election and all I got was this lousy president" and "Don't blame me — My vote wasn't counted."
Jokers never get enough of exploiting the president's last name and vice president's first name with cheap Bush-and-Dick jokes best not repeated. Supporters of Vice President Dick Cheney might turn for inspiration to Richard Nixon, who won two national elections with diehard supporters sporting pins that boasted, "They can't lick our Dick."
The Iraq war and the Bush administration's big business connections are certainly the No. 1 flash point. "Vote Enron/Halliburton" is featured on a mock Bush/Cheney logo. You'll also see "Bush Lied, People Died" and "Purple Heart vs. No Heart," playing up Kerry's Vietnam War record.
And the Michael Moore factor should not be forgotten. The movie poster for Fahrenheit 9/11 — with Bush and Moore shown hand in hand — is featured on a button that reads "Hey, Mikey! I liked it!"
2. Republican Slogans: Scary Kerry
Who says this election isn't a beauty contest? The "Scary Kerry" T-shirt features Kerry's head superimposed over Frankenstein's monster.
But the Grand Old Party has more than a matinee monster to scare undecided voters: "Give Terrorism a Chance, Vote for John Kerry," "Say Yes to Terrorism," and "Kerry for President … of France."
Republicans mock Kerry as "Senator Flip-Flop" for his wavering support of the war, and they will emblazon "Flip-Flop" on everything, even actual beach-ready flip-flop sandals.
You'll also see Kerry lampooned in cartoons as a human waffle with the slogan, "I voted for John Kerry before I voted against him."
Just to show that Bush supporters can engage in the same juvenile potty jokes as their opponents, Republicans are reminding their leader, "Don't forget to flush the John." And now that Edwards has joined the ticket, they're picturing the two Johns with the slogan "Flush Twice."
3. A Bush Doll for Everyone
Whether you're a brute who smashed the head off your sister's Barbie or lavished your doll with a plastic dream house, you can now play politics with an array of Bush figurines for loyal Republicans and disgruntled Democrats.
• Good Talking Bush: Press a button and make the president say things — just like Dick Cheney, a Democrat might say. Bush lovers clearly feel otherwise about Toypresidents.com's commander in chief, which incorporates 25 real Bush sound bites, like "I'm glad to be in the midst of patriots."
• Not-So-Good Talking Bush: Democrats who squeal with pleasure each time the president mangles the English language will prefer the talking Bush at Incrediblegifts.com, which boasts five inspirational sayings along with 20 funny ones, which, as the president might say, shouldn't be "misunderestimated."
• Dress Up Bush … in a Dress: Are you ready for Boy George W.? You can depict the president in lacy women's attire with the magnetic dress-up Dubya Dolls — a toy even Arnold Schwarzenegger might define as a "girlie man."
• George W. "Top Gun" Action Figure: When Bush flew a Navy jet and landed dramatically on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln last year to declare an end to hostilities in Iraq, he may have spoken too soon. Still, supporters who love the president's gusto won't be disappointed by the "Top Gun" Bush action figure, which comes decked out in helmet and goggles, ready to declare victory.
• Pull My Finger President: Talk about a weapon of mass destruction: You can sing "Hail to the Cheese" when you play with "Pull My Finger President," a doll with a case of flatulence. Democrats who say the war in Iraq is really about cheap gas might think it's a real toot.
4. Political Punching Bags
Frustrated with politics? You can take swings at Bush and Kerry inflatable "bop" punching bags, ranging from kiddie-sized 46-inch playthings to 5-foot-tall models, allowing folks of all ages express themselves both politically and violently.
For even more punching pleasure, consider "Voterobics." Town Sports International is launching 45-minute "Voter TKO" workouts in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where you can spar with a Kerry or Bush look-alike. Just be careful. They say Bush moves well to his right and Kerry has a nasty left hook.
5. Condiment Campaigning: Ketchup in the Polls
When Washington lawmakers renamed their cafeteria's fried potatoes "Freedom Fries" to express displeasure with the French over their opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq, the age of fast food politics had begun.
Now Bush supporters are being asked to refrain from slathering fast food with a condiment bearing the name of ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of the Democratic challenger.
W Ketchup, the Republican answer to Heinz, is for folks who want their Dubya re-elected. The conservative condiment is kosher and all-American-made, in order to appeal to a broad constituency. "You don't support Democrats," the company Web site declare. "Why should your ketchup?"
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.