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‘Unbuttoning’ the political intricacies

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Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush drives a new pickup truck off the assembly line during a tour of the General Motors Truck Plant in Pontiac, Mich., Friday, Oct. 13, 2000. (AP Photo)

October 15, 2000 


FRENCHTOWN, Ohio (AP) - The clacking sound of metal discs streaming into packing boxes at Tigereye Design Inc. is a sure sign the political season is in full swing.

The company in this western Ohio village expects to turn out as many as 3 million campaign buttons this year, promoting everyone from presidential candidates to those running for sheriff.

"There's a whole psychology to this button thing," said owner Tony Baltes. "People will wear something, and they want somebody to look at it. They want to make a statement."

Baltes said the most popular Republican button this season is "DUBYA," referring to George W. Bush's middle initial. For the Democrats, it is "The Kiss," featuring a photo of Al Gore giving his wife, Tipper, a lingering smooch after winning the Democratic nomination in August.

Baltes said the company made 150,000 buttons for the Democratic National Convention and was a major supplier to the Republican convention.

His buttons for the Clinton campaign earned him two thank-you calls from first lady Hillary Clinton during the 1992 and 1996 campaigns. But he said most of his orders come from state and county party chairmen or organizations backing a candidate.

Baltes expects to produce 2,000 different designs and slogans this year, up from about 1,200 during the 1996 presidential election. Half are designed by his employees, the rest come from customer suggestions.

"If people used brain cells to solve world problems instead of coming up with political slogans, it would probably be a lot better place to live," he said with a smile.

Baltes said he could follow the campaigns just by taking calls from customers, who tell him where the candidates are going to be, what they said, and what comments were button-worthy.

Larry Bird, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington, said although buttons are still popular, television ads have replaced them as the main campaign tool.

"I can remember when the button was the thing. If you didn't have a button, you didn't have a campaign," Bird said. "Today, the button is kind of an afterthought."

Even so, some candidates wouldn't be without them.

A Republican once called Baltes from a campaign event in eastern Ohio, concerned that the Democrats there had buttons. The man flew his plane to nearby Versailles, scooped up dlrs 1,000 worth of buttons, and flew back to supply his Republican supporters.

Tigereye usually employs about 25 workers, but during the political season the work force swells to 40. During election season, Baltes, 51, usually works from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

"It is fun," he said, but was looking forward to election day. "I'll be glad when Nov. 7 gets here."


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