- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas doesn’t usually scream “presidential campaign” — but a number of 2016 White House hopefuls are eager for Santa to put their hats, sweatshirts and trinkets under your tree this year.

Sen. Ted Cruz has caught the holiday spirit and splattered it all over his signature Christmas sweater. American-made and costing $65, it features the Texan in a Santa Clause cap and wearing an enigmatic smile, floating above the White House. On either side of him are those other staples of holiday cheer: the Revolutionary War-era rattlesnakes and “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush aimed for the stocking stuffer with a $40 collection that includes a water bottle, campaign stickers and an old-style tank top with a throwback picture of a younger Mr. Bush sporting a mustache and sideburns.

Sen. Rand Paul, meanwhile, is offering a $20 mug knockoff of the Starbucks cups that have prompted complaints the company is trying to ruin Christmas.

“We don’t know what the big deal is about the Christmas mug at Starbucks, but here’s our Christmas mug … or Holiday mug … whatever you want to call it,” Mr. Paul’s online marketplace says. “What’s important is that every mug serves up 15 ounces of hot freedom … and who doesn’t like hot freedom!”

On the Democratic side, front-runner Hillary Clinton avoids the specter of playing favorites among her supporters’ religious observances by offering “Hillary for the Holidays” sweatshirts at $60, and Hillary’s Holiday Ornament” at $20. Her website says they’ve sold out of both.

But the $10 hair scrunchie, the $10 H-shaped cookie cutter and the $30 “LGBT Vee” T-shirt are still available.

Ted Jackson, a GOP strategist who launched the first online presidential campaign store in 1999, said the “Christmas” versus “Holiday” divide tracks closely with Republicans and Democrats.

“As a Republican running in the primary you better not be saying ‘Happy holidays.’ You better be saying ‘Merry Christmas,” he said. “The alternative to that is Democrats better not be saying ‘Merry Christmas‘ as opposed to ‘Happy Holidays.’”

But whatever they’re called, Mr. Jackson said they do actually sell pretty well.

“If somebody is enthusiastic about a particular candidate, whether it is your father, your brother or your cousin, and you need to get him a $30 gift, it is a good way out,” he said. “You can scratch that off the list.”

Of course, the gifts are sometimes used for more mischievous purposes, he said.

“If someone hates a particular candidate and you want to give a gag gift or something that is going to cause them a bellyache that is a perfect opportunity to do that,” he said. “Somebody might give some Hillary thing to Republicans and say, ‘Here you go.’”

Candidates on both sides of the aisle tout their goods as American-made, though Mr. Jackson says that’s not always so easy to verify.

Democrats, meanwhile, will tout their apparel as union made, while Republicans often opt against such a label, even if its made by union workers, he said.

Mr. Sanders’ digital director, Kenneth Pennington, insists they’re the “only campaign selling 100 percent union-made products manufactured by American workers.”

“Notable items include our new black t-shirts and warm sweatshirts for the winter weather,” Mr. Pennington said. “A fan-inspired favorite is our ‘Feel the Bern’ coffee mug.”

The bummer, according to Mr. Sanders’ store, is that some items have proved so popular they can’t keep up with the heavy order volume and can’t guarantee delivery until a couple weeks after Christmas.

Back on the GOP side, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has a solution for last-minute shoppers: a downloadable “Carson Coloring Book” for adults.

“There are few trends more popular this year than the grown-up coloring books,” his campaign says. “What had traditionally been an activity reserved for children to develop good coordination and motor skills, is now seen as therapeutic for adults as a stress reliever.”

The website also urges people to share a photo of their artwork online or through social media as part of a contest where Mr. Carson will select his favorite picture on Christmas Eve, with the winner taking home “some cool swag.”

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