The best campaign merch from the 2020 Democratic candidates


The best campaign merch from the 2020 Democratic candidates
By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini 
July 15, 2019
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I enjoy mezcal. But sometimes it leads to ill-advised, late night e-commerce. 

Yet, despite all the weird things that have arrived at my door in an Amazon box or a tattered bag from China, somehow I've never thrown my credit card down for election gear. 

But that doesn't mean I don't like to window shop. Or judge things. So, let's take a look at some of the fun stuff I found in the Democratic candidates' online merch stores and give out some awards.

BEST T-SHIRT

T-shirts are the most common item, so it makes sense to start there. Mind you, most of the candidates' shirts were plain and rather unoriginal: Here's our campaign logo in the center. Now give us money.

But a few actually made an effort. And, later in these awards, we'll see more of that creativity in other categories. Here, though, the honors go to shirts I might actually wear, keeping in mind that this arbiter of taste sometimes wanders out into public with a Grateful Dead tie-dye. On purpose.
There's so much to like about this shirt. It's simple. It's attractive. And it serves an actual purpose. Now you can correctly pronounce Mayor Pete's last name ... even though we're all just going to call him Mayor Pete. Forever. Even if he wins the White House. President Mayor Pete.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Andrew Yang and Beto O'Rourke
I'm always a big fan of people who can laugh at themselves. And Andrew Yang nails it with his cartoon face. Unless we're not supposed to laugh. In which case ... erm ... sorry, Mr. Yang. Looking good! Anyway, it's perfectly silly. It's fun. And though I'm not usually a fan of words on the back of shirts, I do like 'Yang Gang.' It sounds like something a misguided nerd would join to fight Crips and Bloods with a TI-89 calculator. Beto, as the other runner-up, scored points for being basic and simple and gray. There's a rock n' roll element to it. And Beto 2020 would actually be a good name for  a band.

   


BEST COFFEE MUG

If there's one item I might actually buy from my eventual candidate of choice, it would probably be a coffee mug. I like coffee. And I like mugs. I also like smothering my body in tartar sauce. But that's an unrelated topic for another day. 

WINNER: Bernie Sanders
Bernie's mug is great because it's not over-the-top with the senator's image or name. If you know the slogan, you know the slogan. And it's a solid pun. Feel the Bern ... like Burn. Because coffee's hot. See what they did there? Look, when the Pun Gods give you a golden gift, you take it. And you apologize to nobody. 


HONORABLE MENTIONSJoe Biden and Elizabeth Warren
Our first runner-up is the result of another solid offering from the Pun Gods. I mean, the Biden campaign kind of had to go there: CUP O' JOE. It just works. And so does Elizabeth Warren's use of PERSIST ... adding BUT FIRST, COFFEE. I appreciate the honesty. Sure, we all want to make the world a better place. But stimulants come before change. Obviously.



BEST DOG THING

I was actually surprised at how few candidates pandered to the four-legged, non-voting members of our society. So, for this category, I took a little liberty with what actually qualifies as a "dog thing." Which is to say, I allowed dog-related merch to count - including bandanas. Even if they weren't necessarily marketed as a pet accessory. 
Senator Warren's golden retriever, Bailey, has become a bit of star. So it makes sense that the senator's campaign store sells a collar. And it makes even more sense that it reads: CONSUMER WATCHDOG. It's on-brand. And it's clever. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg
A few candidates sold bandanas that, as I said, would qualify for this category. But I thought Kamala Harris' purple design stood out from the crowd and would look best around the neck of a very good boy or girl. Because dogs don't care about politics. They're not red or blue. They're ... purple. So, the bandana points go to Kamala. But for the other runner-up, I decided to honor a t-shirt from the Buttigieg campaign by virtue of it being dog-related. It contains the names of Mayor Pete, his husband, Chasten, and their two dogs, Buddy and Truman. It's my rules. The t-shirt counts. Yes it does. Yes it does. Oh, yes it does.

   


BEST STICKER

Bumper stickers are a mainstay of any campaign season. And, for better or worse, they tend to literally stick around. Sometimes for a decades. Which is why if you pull up behind a Toyota Prius there's a 50/50 chance it still has HILLARY 2016 slapped on to the trunk. The point is, these are often a candidate's only enduring visual legacy. So it pays to make it count.

WINNER: Kamala Harris
Kamala Harris did just that. Her sticker is perfect with good color choices over a solid black background. And it shows off a certain symmetry in her name ... that every other letter is an A. And I like that. It helps me sleep at night. Because I'm insane.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Cory Booker and Tulsi Gabbard
There's nothing wildly spectacular about either of these two stickers. But, for whatever reason, they just work. Again, maybe it's because I'm a completely mental and somehow soothed by the fact that CORY and 2020 are loosely symmetrical. Tulsi's sticker isn't, but I especially like the sunshine effect. They captured the warmth and spirit of Hawaii without having to scream, "Aloha!"

   


BEST HAT

Love him or hate him, Trump made headwear great again. Well, maybe not great. But culturally important. And it makes absolutely no sense. MAGA hats are objectively unattractive. Yet, somehow, they've become a major part of American political history. None of these, below, will reach that kind of status. But they're still pretty good. 

WINNER: Amy Klobuchar
The green Amy patch is a really nice touch. It sort of feels like a hat you would wear if you owned an organic farm somewhere in Maine, tapping into the spirit of rural America. That, or you sell vegan ice cream out of a truck in Portland. I love this hat.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: John Hickenlooper and Marianne Williamson
John Hickenlooper's beanie hat is totally on-brand for a former governor of Colorado. It's what you might wear on the way up to Breckenridge. Or back in Boulder while pruning your cannabis plants. And, oddly enough, Williamson's hat also has sort of an outdoor vibe to it. In fact, if you didn't know who she was, you might think, just by looking at it, that MARIANNE was some hip Swedish mountaineering company. 

   


BEST BABY THING

I don't know when or how it started, but politicians feel compelled to kiss babies. Rarely with consent. And if that wasn't bad enough for these sticky little poop monsters, now we're dressing them in campaign clothes. I'd almost feel bad for them if they weren't so sticky and poop-monster-y. Anyway, here's the best of the baby gear.
DREAM BIG. FIGHT HARD. Good words of advice for a newborn. But it's the last line that won me over: NAP OFTEN. Those who know me are aware that napping is literally my favorite thing. I try to take a two-hour siesta every Saturday and Sunday. So, in that sense, I'm basically an infant. Plus the pants pooping. That, too.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg
Biden's onesie is nothing special, but I appreciate that he at least put BABY FOR above his name. It's just slightly better than slapping on a logo and calling it a day. Mayor Pete's baby thing isn't really a baby thing. It's more for a toddler. But I let it sneak through because, seriously, look at that damn tie. The only mistake was not making this shirt in adult sizes.

   


BEST COMPLETELY RANDOM THING

Campaign merch is more or less standard across the board. But every now and then we get an outlier. Something nobody else has. Here are the very best from the weird idea bin.

WINNER: Andrew Yang
It's a pin. Which isn't strange in and of itself. But the fact that it's a caricature of Andrew Yang wearing a hat that simply reads MATH is. And it's fantastic - a reference to how Yang sees himself as different from Trump: An "Asian man who likes math." His campaign then turned the word into an acronym: "Make America Think Harder." Which, quite frankly, is asking a lot from people like me, what with my nap schedule and all.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: John Delaney and Eric Swalwell
John Delaney's store really hasn't done anything to cheer about. Though, as you'll see at the very end of this list, I have saved a special award just for him. But, otherwise, his merch shop has nothing particularly noteworthy. That said, I was amused at his campaign-branded eraser. Here, from Delaney's website, is the OFFICIAL reasoning:  "Simply place one eraser beneath your pillow before falling asleep and by morning you'll have forgotten all of the pain, invective, division, and incoherent ramblings of our 45th president." So there's that. And I gave the other honorable mention to Eric Swalwell, even though he recently suspended his campaign. In or out, he did have branded shoe laces and I thought mentioning them here was a decent parting gift. It's not. But that's what I thought.

   


BEST POSTER

Posters are pretty much my favorite merch item when it comes to live music. I love the creative design behind concert prints, even though I later hate myself when I wind up at a craft store paying a king's ransom for framing and a custom matte. Thanks, Phish.
This Bernie poster is one of the most beautiful pieces of campaign art I've ever seen. And my memory of political posters actually goes back several decades. When I was growing up in Phoenix, there was a guy at the end of our street whose garage door was always open, and the inside walls were lined with classic artwork from past presidents. I used to marvel at it whenever we drove by. Bernie's poster reminds me of those. It's an old-school instant classic.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang
Both Harris and Yang also made notable efforts with their posters. But compared to Bernie's you can really see the difference. These are good posters. Really good posters. But his is perfection. And while we're on this subject, I'd actually like to see candidates start to offer limited edition campaign art. I feel like there's a market for that. In your house. Not mine. I have a self-imposed a ban on spending any more money at Michaels.

   


EL MEJOR USO DEL ESPAÑOL

I'm actually a little shocked not to see more Spanish language merch. It seems, now more than ever, this is a market that any sensible campaign needs to address. Alas, all I found was two examples. No más.
Elizabeth Warren's team kept it simple - take one of their big slogans, throw it through Google translate, and put an upside down slammer at the front. Done and done. And wildly effective. Muy bien, senadora con un lindo retreiver dorado.


HONORABLE MENTION: Julián Castro
Castro's hat also gets credit for using Spanish. Though, for some reason, this one seems aimed more at English-speaking supporters who just like the idea of saying Adiós. Which is fine. It's on brand, and the colors are really nice - it's actually my favorite combination. Vamos tu espuelas!

   


BEST TOTE

So, apparently tote bags are a popular thing these days. I don't know why. But I accept it. With questions. Specifically, what is the practicality of a tote? Does it rest comfortably as you go about your day, equally distributing weight over both shoulders? No. Does it have inner compartments to help organize your stuff. No. But do people love these things? Yes. And most of the campaign websites sell one.

WINNER: Joe Biden
For those of you born before 1975, TOTES is slang for "totally." It's silly, but I'll allow it. Because, in the context of this bag, it's actually kind of cute. And it works. Totes for Joe. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren
Kirsten Gillibrand's tote is adorned with one of her adopted slogans, picked up from when Chris Wallace of Fox News said that she wasn't "frankly very polite" in regards to things Gillibrand said about his network. As we've seen with other candidates, it's the art of taking a negative and turning it into a positive. And then selling it. Elizabeth Warren (as we've already seen) did that when Mitch McConnell admonished her on the senate floor for reading a letter by Coretta Scott King abut Jeff Sessions. Mitch said, "She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." That became PERSIST. It works as a slogan. It works as a tote.

   


BEST GAY THING

It was heartwarming and assuring to see so many campaign shops with an entire section just for pride. Rainbows! Rainbows everywhere! And in this category we have our only co-winners because I simply couldn't decide on one.  

CO-WINNERS: Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg
The Biden campaign absolutely crushed it with this white tank top covered by rainbow-filled aviator sunglasses. No words needed. It simultaneously hollers for pride while subtly shouting Joe! The other co-winner goes to Mayor Pete. Though, perhaps we should give all the glory to his husband, Chasten. No rainbows necessary. CHASTEN FOR FIRST GENTLEMAN says it all. Brilliant!

     

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Cory Booker and Beto O'Rourke
Cory Booker and Beto also get some recognition here for their respective designs and slogans. Both are several giant tiers below our co-winners, but certainly commendable nonetheless.

   


BEST YARD SIGN

Fortunately, neighborhoods across America aren't yet cluttered with these things. That'll come once the primaries start. But the candidates are still getting their yard signs out there, ready for purchase. And there's a few good ones in the bunch.

WINNER: Beto O'Rourke
I really like Beto's black and white look. His team nailed it with a yard sign that goes well in front of any color house. That said, while I have tons of praise for the design, I don't necessarily trust his fiscal responsibility. I mean ... that'a a lot of toner.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: Elizabeth Warren and Tulsi Gabbard
I really like the color scheme for this version of Elizabeth Warren's yard sign. However, I couldn't begin to tell you what color she used for the background. It's not quite aqua. Not quite green. Definitely not orange. So, I tried to pull a somewhat accurate HEX code from Photoshop and came up with #aecfc8. I then searched for that color online and one site returned the name: SCANDAL. Which is concerning. As for Tulsi's sign, for some reason I really find her name to be visually pleasing. Especially in this font. And I think it makes for an attractive and effective yard sign. I only wish she used the sunshine gradient version. When you have the spirit of Hawaii on your side, use it!

   


BEST BEER KOOZIE

I liked beer. I still like beer. And I like beer koozies. Of course, these days I'm partial to my YETI. But, I'm, nevertheless, a sucker for clever designs printed on a classic koozie made of foam. Just like these.
Here in Atlanta we have a really good beer called Monday Night Brewing. The current design of their cans is uninspiring, but their old ones were gorgeous. Each colorfully incorporated a silhouette. You can still see it in their primary logo. Anyway, I loved it. And it was very similar to what Bernie's done now with his NOT ME US design.


HONORABLE MENTIONS: John Hickenlooper and Julián Castro
Hickenlooper and Castro also had decent looking koozies, but lacked any real style points. On a side note, one thing that all of these koozies shared in common was that the web shops never mentioned the word BEER. Maybe for legal reasons. Instead, they refer to them as a "beverage holder" or a "can cooler." Which is silly. It's a koozie. And it's for beer. 

   


BEST COMPLETE MISS

Finally, as promised, a special category just for John Delaney. Because I couldn't stop thinking about how they got their koozie so insanely wrong. It actually deserves to be celebrated.

WINNER: John Delaney
What is the message here? Vote. Then go home to drink. And then vote again? If he had stopped at only suggesting we VOTE (once) and then go home to drink, we'd be on to something good. But his implied promotion of drunken ballot stuffing makes me wonder how this concept ever got past the copy editors. I guess they were still working on step two.



FINAL NOTE

At press time (which is a fancy way of saying when I eventually finished writing this on my sofa) several of the candidates did not have online stores linked to their campaign websites. This includes Bill de Blasio, Wayne Messam, Steve Bullock, and Joe Sestak.

I reached out to all of them via Twitter to confirm, but only heard back from Bullock and Sestak. I also heard back from Mike Gravel, who kindly sent along a link to his shop. And though he didn't win any awards, you should still check it out because it's a wonderful hot mess of political weirdness. 

Like Gravel, candidates Tom Steyer, Seth Mouton, Tim Ryan, and Michael Bennet did have stores, but did not receive any awards. Though, to be fair, nobody actually received anything. You're welcome.

(Actually, here are some BEST images you can share on social.)

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