Electoral Collage

Don’t chuck that campaign sign just because the election’s over.

By Nino Padova May 19, 2009 Published in the November 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

HIGH GAS PRICES, a nose-diving economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—forget all that for a second. With voters mailing in their ballots over the next few days, the important question to ask is this: What do you do with that “Vote for Change” lawn sign once the election’s over?

“Don’t throw it away,” says John Gearhart of the Oregon chapter of American Political Items Collectors (APIC). The 62-year-old retired CPA and collector of campaign curios—which include pins, photos, ribbons, stickers, shot glasses, and whatever other articles of poli-schwag he can get his hands on—says 2008 is shaping up to be a special year for election paraphernalia. “It probably won’t have monetary value, but it will have historical value—we’ll either have the first female vice president or the first African American president.”

So forget the snoozerific “Jeff Merkley Democrat for U.S. Senate” stuff. When it comes to political sloganeering in left-leaning Portland, 2008 is all about Obama, from the tongue-pleasing “Oregon for Obama” to the obscure “Even My Llama Is for Obama” T-shirts.

“The O-encircled sunrise is fast approaching iconic status,” says APIC spokesperson Adam Gottlieb, referring to the Democratic presidential nominee’s ubiquitous logo. In terms of brand recognition, Gottlieb ranks the Obama sunrise up there with the Nike swoosh or the golden arches of McDonald’s. For collectors, that could translate into dollars: At the APIC’s biennial convention in Las Vegas last summer, a Barack Obama campaign kickoff pin fetched $150.

Erik Prowell, co-owner of No Star Clothing, a Northeast Portland-based apparel company, is specializing in humorous election T-shirts. “The political shirts are some of our strongest sellers right now,” says Prowell. He’s already sold more than 500 short-sleeved “Obama Is My Homeboy” tees ($24), and there are more on back order. And then there’s the latest addition to the company’s political catalog, a parody of the Top Gun movie poster with John McCain, wearing a bomber jacket, in Tom Cruise’s role. In big letters, scrawled across the bottom of the shirt, is the word “Maverick.”

But could a silly shirt based on an ’80s action flick really become a cash cow in the future? “It’s hard to predict what will be a vintage collectible,” says Gottlieb. “I’m sure during the 1920 presidential campaign the people who had ‘Cox and Roosevelt’ buttons didn’t know what they had. One of those recently sold for $27,000.”

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