Selling of the president, one Everyday Pantsuit Tee at a time

Candidates' online stores are important for branding, gaining supporter insights, and fundraising.
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A ‘Grillary Clinton’ apron and other merchandise featured in the Democratic frontrunner’s online store. (Photo: hillaryclinton.com)

Harry Truman is credited with saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

That’s great advice, especially if you’re running for president.

It remains to be seen whether Hillary Clinton can take the heat, but early indications are that she’s warming to it.

I’m basing this not on the old ways of gauging the candidates, such as scientific polls. I go where the common man goes: browsing the candidates’ online stores.

$40 million to Obama campaign

And on Hillary’s official presidential campaign site, she’s not just standing but also bringing the heat.

Her store offers a “Grillary Clinton” apron ($30) and a Grillary Clinton spatula ($35), or you can get both of them and the “H-2-Oh Yeah!” four-cup pack, all combined in the Summer BBQ Kit ($50).

Before the candidates vie for votes, they battle for dollars. And merchandise sales – which count as a campaign contribution – can be worth big bucks: nearly $40 million to the Obama campaign in 2012, according to a CBS News story.

“We would learn a lot of information about their shopping habits and, that way, that would kind of tell us then more about demographics and what people in that demographic and that area are like,” said Meaghan Burdick, the Obama campaign’s director of marketing and merchandising.

Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director, acknowledged the revenue potential of merchandise sales, “but mostly it’s a way for people to show their support, but to do it in a creative way.”

True, most candidates offer the standard fare: buttons, stickers, yard signs, but even T-shirts aren’t what they used to be.

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The ‘Everyday Pantsuit Tee’ (Photo: hillaryclinton.com)

Consider Clinton’s “Everyday Pantsuit Tee,” a take on the old tuxedo T-shirt and the campaign’s way of having fun with her fondness for wearing the real thing. (A possible sign of empty campaign promises: pantsuit bottoms not included.)

Republican Rand Paul’s store shows a light side, too, sometimes at his potential Democratic rival’s expense.

His store has a tab titled “Hillary” that invokes her controversial use of a private email account while serving as U.S. secretary of state. You’ll find “Hillary’s Hard Drive,” priced at $99.95, limit two per purchase: “You’ve read about it on the news, now you can get one for yourself. Hillary’s Hard Drive. 100% genuine erased clean email server.”

Paul betrays his libertarian side with a T-shirt bearing the message, “The NSA knows I bought this Rand Paul tshirt.”

You can purchase a number of items autographed by Paul, from a $100 iPhone case, to a $500 eye chart (he is an ophthalmologist), to a $1,000 copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Lindsey Graham’s ebook

It’s pretty much a given that a presidential candidate will establish his or her bona fides by writing a book. Paul charges $250 for a signed copy of his book, “Taking a Stand.” Republican Ted Cruz’s book, “A Time for Truth,” is the only item listed under his store’s “limited edition” tab.

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How limited? I put more than $15 million worth of the book into my cart, enough to make me a player on a scale with the Koch brothers. (Of course, that sizable of a donation would far surpass the $2,700 that an individual can contribute per election under federal campaign laws.)

Lindsey Graham, another one of the Republicans seeking the presidency (even if you didn’t know it) isn’t selling a book or anything else. However, you can get a free download of his ebook, “From Central to Congress,” Central being the name of the town in South Carolina where he grew up (even if you never heard of it).

Neither of the current Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, has an online store. Nor does long-shot Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator whose penchant for sweater vests became such a theme of his failed 2012 run for the White House that he started selling them.

Of course, all of this is subject to change. The field of candidates will contract, maybe even before the first voting takes place, as political realities take shape. There will be lots of sniping, both within and between parties.

But my research tells me there is bipartisan consensus on at least one issue: all presidential merchandise has to be made in the United States.

That’s a position I can get behind.

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