Race to the White House Goes to The Dogs

Could a presidential candidate's pet be a deciding factor for undecided voters?

ByABC News via logo
July 20, 2007, 11:47 AM

July 20, 2007— -- As more names are added to the ballot and the presidential campaign heats up, candidates are pulling out all the stops. And the latest secret weapon on the campaign trail may have more than two legs, a really hairy back and a tail.

It's the pet factor, and it might be more important than ever.

Will Hillary Clinton's chocolate lab pull her over the finish line? Can John McCain's menagerie turn his fortunes around? Should Rudy Giuliani and Barack Obama simply give up because they are pet-less?

As the voting public becomes more interested in the person behind the politician, a candidate's pet, or lack thereof, could win or lose them the race. But, warns comedian Mo Rocca, author of "All the President's Pets," candidates have to get their pet-igrees right. The wrong choice might be devastating.

"A poodle will never work because they are just seen as too European, the only thing that would be worse is a 'Bichon Frise' -- then you can just forget it," Rocca said.

There's plenty of evidence to support this pet theory.

Whatever the feelings about the elected inhabitant of the Oval Office may be, the public's love affair with other White House creatures, great and small, has always been undisputed.

A new White House Visitor's Center exhibit celebrates their influence.

"I don't know who said this, maybe Napoleon, 'Behind every great man is a great dog,'" said William Bushong of the White House Historical Association.

Some presidents go overboard -- Calvin Coolidge had 33 pets, including a raccoon and a wallaby.

A fan of marsupials, Rocca said, "I love any pet with a pouch. I think that's really daring of a president."

Pets do offer support in what can be a lonely town. And no one understands that more than Republican candidate John McCain.

McCain has a pretty large pet contingent, including, "Kookie, Cocoa the Mutt. He's got two turtles named Cuff and Link. He's got a ferret. He's got Oreo, the black-and-white cat. This is obviously very real," Rocca said.

But most important, pets have long been critical image-boosters.