Beyond the Santorum Sweater Vest: 2012's Best Campaign Gear

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Sweater VestThis week, Rick Santorum grabbed headlines when he offered supporters the shirt -- in fact, the sweater -- off his back. But even while the GOP presidential hopeful promises to send one of his iconic sweater vests to everyone who donates $100 or more to his campaign, the former Pennsylvania senator faces a tough contest in the fight to offer the best campaign merchandise.

As the Republican primary season starts to seriously heat up, we decided to take a look at some of the winners and losers in the battle of the campaign swag.

Beyond the Santorum Sweater Vest: 2012's Best Campaign Gear


On the surface, the Santorum sweater isn't all that exciting: An American-made garment, constructed of 100% cotton, it comes in any color you want, as long as it's gray. But, beyond its conservative sartorial statement, the Santorum sweater is also a bold announcement of political affiliation. According to the campaign website, the garment is "Perfect for demonstrating solidarity with true conservatives" and "a great way to show your support for Rick." And for people who worry that traditional sweaters may be too constricting, the website warns "Don't let sleeves slow you down -- donate today!"

While Santorum's sleeveless wonder may become the signature political souvenir of the 2012 season, the campaign's overall offerings are disappointing. Santorum is the only major candidate whose website doesn't have an official store. On the bright side, serious Santorophiles can get their campaign swag from various other sources -- for example, there's a CafePress store with all the classic election goodies -- but there doesn't seem to be any official place to buy his gear. In other words, when it comes to Santorum, 2012 is the year of the sweater -- or else!

When they talk about a return to old fashioned values, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich could all be referring to their campaign swag. Romney is particularly old-school, with a campaign store that sticks to the basics: buttons, T-shirts, water bottles and yard signs. The raciest item is probably the $8 "Believe in America" lapel pin that the site describes as "the perfect way to add style to your suit coat, backpack or tie." Pictured on the lapel of a woman attired in a nautical-striped shirt and a tasteful black blazer, suggesting that the pin is perfectly suited for the woman on the go -- or at least the woman who doesn't want to change on the way from the golf course to the cocktail party.

Rick Perry's offerings are as limited as Romney's, but a bit more plebeian. Fans of the Texas governor can show their support with T-shirts, stickers, yard signs, magnets and water bottles. For those who are feeling particularly bold, Team Perry also offers an embroidered knit beanie that, it notes, is useful for "keeping your head warm during a cold primary season."

While not quite as sparse as Romney's and Perry's stores, Newt Gingrich's campaign depot is still pretty underwhelming. Sure, there are all the standards: "Newt 2012" pins, T-shirts and bandannas, all in bright Bolshevik ... er, Republican red, plus a nice collection of bumper stickers, magnets and mugs.

In fact, the only odd note in the bunch is "50 Flyers of the 21st Century Contract with America." Touted as a way "to spread Newt's message to your friends and family," the bundled brochures are an updated version of Gingrich's 1994 legislative agenda. While a bit wonky, they undoubtedly are the perfect thing for clearing the living room after Sunday dinner, sending everyone home after a birthday party, and generally cutting irritating social gatherings short.

Gingrich is impressive, but when it comes to innovative campaign marketing, Ron Paul is the man to beat in 2012. Want a card that outlines Paul's military policies and has a cute picture of him in an Air Force uniform? The site charges $5 for 100 of them. And, if foreign policy isn't your thing, don't despair. The Paul website has cards describing his views on homeschooling, closing the fed, energy independence, and over a dozen other talking points. For some key issues -- abortion, religion, and the economy -- Paul even offers the cards in Spanish translation.

But that's not all! Want a bright red wristband that says "End the Fed"? Paul's your man! How about a six-foot banner that says "Ron Paul Revolution"? It's a steal at only $40, and since it doesn't have a date printed on it, chances are you'll be able to dig it out again when Paul decides to run in 2016. There's also a Ron Paul-approved pocket Constitution, a Ron Paul family cookbook (Helloooo, Velveeta!), and a 500-pack of Ron Paul balloons -- suitable for conventions and birthday parties! Of course, for those who are a bit less visionary, Paul's website, too, has all the basics -- a near endless parade of T-shirts, baseball caps, mugs, bumper stickers, and other election-year favorites.

Just because a politician focuses on the standards doesn't mean that he can't have a bit of style. The perfect example of this truism may be Republican dark horse Jon Huntsman, who landed in the back of the pack in Iowa, but gets extra points for stylish swag. To begin with, the candidate's logo -- a simple, iconic "H" -- is subtle and effective, bringing to mind the kind of classy corporate advertising that one generally associates with PBS. And, while Huntsman's offerings aren't all that imaginative, they are stylish and tasteful -- the kind of political souvenirs that wouldn't look out of place in a nightclub, college campus, or basketball court. When we called them on Tuesday, the Huntsman campaign couldn't tell us who designed their products -- apparently, there was a primary and they were a bit busy. Still, it isn't too hard to imagine that the candidate's famously media-savvy daughters may have had a hand in the designs.

Of course, the man to beat is really Obama, and the president's extensive campaign store dwarfs those of his competitors. From grill spatulas to yoga pants, golf balls to martini glasses, the shop has everything a dedicated Bama Booster might need to show loyalty. For Biden fans, there's a "Cup of Joe" mug and a "Cheers, Champ" beer koozie. Michelle Obama boosters can find plenty of items with "First Lady Fabulousness," including a button with her smiling face. And for politically progressive canines, there's a dog bowl, a dog bandanna, and a Bo in 2012 button.

All of Obama's goodies proudly proclaim that they're made in the America, but the most obvious bit of red, white and blue pandering may be on one of his mugs. Featuring Obama's grinning face on one side and his long-form State of Hawaii birth certificate on the other, the handy coffee cup boldly states "Made in the USA." For voters of all stripes who have grown sick of the whispered innuendos that have so recently characterized American politics, that mug may well be a cool drink of water.

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Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.
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