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Saturday, July 19, 2008

McCain's 'Gift Gap'

By Jim Popkin, NBC News
We've had the Bubba Gap. The Women Gap. And now comes the "Gift Gap." At political gift stores across America, Barack Obama schlock is outselling John McCain schlock at least five to one, according to interviews NBC News conducted with gift-shop retailers and t-shirt manufacturers.

That would mean that five times as many Obama t-shirts are on the streets…five times as many Obama bumper stickers are junking up cars…and five times as many Obama bobble heads are wiggling on desks across America.

At the Capital Noveltees manufacturing plant in Washington, DC, for example, demand for Obama gift items is through the roof. The firm, a major supplier to retailers nationwide, has sold 54,028 pro-Obama t-shirts since March. During that same period, the company has sold only 5,979 pro-McCain t-shirts, said company owner Susan Benovitz.

"It's not that we're favoring one candidate over another," Benovitz said. "I just know how fast the re-orders come in for Obama."

Omen, or junk political science?

Think the sale of political tchotchkes is a meaningless omen, a false canary in the coalmine for the McCain campaign? Well, consider this:

Bobby Salehi is an assistant district-sales manager for America, the 16-store political-merchandise chain. He's sold gifts in U.S. airports for 20 years, and says every four years he can predict the winner of the presidential election. "Whoever sells the most t-shirts usually ends up winning," he says.

Salehi says that McCain is getting trounced in t-shirt, hat and mug sales at all the America shops, in Virginia, Maryland, DC, and New Jersey. The same numbers hold true for McCain at the Political Americana shop by the White House.

And it's not just at retail outlets.

The eBay Election:
On eBay, type in "Obama" and 4,368 gift items pop up.
Type in "McCain" and only 1,097 items emerge.

Why the big discrepancy in sales? "Maybe people who support Obama are more demonstrative" than McCain fans, speculates Benovitz, from Capital Noveltees.

Maybe. That’s certainly what the Obama campaign would have one believe. At a press conference last month, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe showed reporters several power-point slides titled, “The Enthusiasm Gap.” They quoted results from a USA Today/Gallup poll that showed that 61% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic than usual about voting in this year's election, while just 35% of Republicans reported that same tingly feeling. Quoting from a similar LA Times, Plouffe showed a slide that said: “Even among voters who say they do plan to vote for McCain, more than half say they are "not enthusiastic" about their chosen candidate; only 45% say they are enthusiastic. By contrast, 81% of Obama voters say they are enthusiastic, and almost half call themselves "very enthusiastic," a level of zeal that only 13% of McCain's supporters display.”

So does that alleged enthusiasm for Obama explain the McCain gift gap? Not so fast, says Ira Teinowitz, the Washington Bureau Chief for Advertising Age. Teinowitz says he’d first want to know who these customers are, whether foreigners are skewing the results and how well Obama is selling in Republican-leaning red states.

And he suggests that, since Obama is so popular with Gen Facebook, that young voters may artificially be driving up t-shirts sales. “It’s logical to assume that young people are more likely to wear t-shirts than old [folks],” Teinowitz said. “If you look at the cool versus non-cool aspect of this, McCain isn’t exactly cool” to wear on a faded t-shirt, he added.

McCain Campaign Reacts:
The McCain campaign reacted to the doomsday news of the Gift Gap with characteristic humor. Is this gift-buying discrepancy an omen of a campaign in trouble, we queried in an email?

"Al Gore and John Kerry sold a lot of t-shirts too," McCain spokesman Joe Pounder replied.

Quick. Funny. To the point. Maybe it will end up on a bumper sticker.

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