The best (and worst) merch of the midterms
A guide to the most creative and cringe campaign swag in 2022 - and why it matters
Political campaign merch can be more than just a tacky t-shirt or a coozie that sits in the back of your kitchen cabinet. While it may not make or break a campaign’s chance of winning, when deployed well, merch can help a campaign grow its war chest and engage its audience online.
“Merch, (and digital in general) is about telling a story. The thing that I always stress is that whatever you make, it has to be authentic to the candidate,” says Robyn Kanner, founder of Studio Gradients who has led design work for prominent campaigns and organizations, including Biden for President.
A campaign’s merch strategy sits at the intersection of digital, fundraising, organizing, and communications, and having a functioning swag shop is kind of “Politics 101” in 2022. It’s not only an opportunity for candidates to raise grassroots dollars, but it also demonstrates that they’ve built out sufficient online infrastructure to support the campaign at scale. So, how do 2022 campaigns stack up? We’ve done a bit of window shopping for every candidate for U.S. Senate and Governor, and here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of midterm merch:
Mark Kelly (AZ-Sen)
First-term Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly is up for re-election this year, and he’s built out a pretty sophisticated digital operation that has launched one of our favorite merch campaigns of the cycle. The Kelly campaign’s “Arizona Natural Treasures” collection features trendy posters and t-shirts highlighting national parks and scenic areas across the state. The posters travel well too.
Josh Shapiro (PA-Gov)
Pennsylvania AG and Dem gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro is a huge basketball fan, and his campaign often shares videos of the candidate sinking three-pointers on the campaign trail. It makes sense then that they brought on Studio Gradients to help them launch a line of basketball-themed merch. Hunter Schwarz looked at that merch campaign in his excellent visual politics newsletter, Yello:
Stacey Abrams (GA-Gov)
Abrams’ new merch store is full of pretty traditional campaign merch items, but the Andy Warhol-inspired tote and the purple fanny pack(!) made her team’s efforts stand out. Yes, we bought a fanny pack.
Blake Masters (AZ-Sen):
Lobbyists rejoice! For the very cheap price of $250, apparently, anyone can buy 10 minutes to chat about “guns, crypto, you name it” with billionaire-backed Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters. Sounds like a great time.
Mehmet Oz (PA-Sen):
Can you imagine tailgating before the big football game while wearing an illegible “Senator Doctor Oz” t-shirt and holding a cold beer wrapped in a “JUST WHAT THE DR. ORDERED” coozie? We can’t either - but the Oz campaign is still trying to make it happen.
Ron DeSantis (FL-Gov)
Professional troll and Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis has presidential ambitions and a merch store that rivals most presidential campaigns. His website is currently selling over 70 different pieces of merch, including guitar picks, boot-shaped coozies, solo cups, and golf balls. It’s probably the most built-out merch operation we’ve seen in 2022.
Kari Lake (AZ-Gov)
Perhaps inspired by her anti-government, anti-mask base of supporters, leading right-wing candidate for Arizona governor Kari Lake’s campaign is hawking shirts with masks on fire. Maybe it’s just meant to symbolize that Arizona dry heat?
…and we have to mention that several major statewide campaigns currently lack any merch at all. We were surprised to see that Marco Rubio (FL-Sen), Alex Lasry (WI-Sen), and Maggie Hassan (NH-Sen) have yet to set up merch stores - at least any we could easily find on their websites!
Overall, compared to past election cycles (remember Jeb’s Guacabowle? Andrew Yang’s limited-edition item drops?), we were kind of unimpressed with this year’s offerings. As Kanner told us: “Political merch doesn't have to be bad…it’s 2022, you shouldn't have to be embarrassed to wear your political preference.” As the general election gets into full swing, let’s hope the campaigns step it up.
What’s your favorite swag of the 2022 election cycle? Let us know on Twitter @FWIWNews!