Vendors follow the 2008 presidential campaign making money along the way

Cashing in on the campaign

Miriam Williamson

Everyone has seen them. Some people are annoyed by them, some people are appreciative of what they have to offer. They are the vendors selling paraphernalia at large events.

In this case, they are the vendors at political rallies. They are the ones who call out to rally-goers, trying to sell buttons and T-shirts.

The lifestyle is unlike anything someone with a stereotypical source of income could imagine.

Phil Phunn has been selling campaign paraphernalia for every election since 1996.

Phil Phunn has been selling campaign paraphernalia for every election since 1996.

“We have put more than 10,000 miles on the van in the past two weeks,” said Chris Foran, a vendor from Florida who works for Campaign Curt.

Foran and his partner Phil Phunn have been following Sarah Palin’s campaign since August. They have driven through nearly every state, stopping in various cities where political rallies and events are held.

The McCain-Palin campaign is not Phunn’s or Foran’s sole source of income though. They go to events for both political parties selling memorabilia to supporters from both sides.

“I’m actually undecided for which one I’m voting for,” Phunn said. “I really don’t know. It’s the first time in my life I haven’t known who I am voting for this close to election day.”

Phunn has been working as a campaign paraphernalia vendor since 1996, following different campaigns. For this presidential race, before the democratic convention, Phunn followed Hillary Clinton exclusively, but once Barack Obama was chosen as the candidate, he was left unsure.

“Everyone wants to talk to me about politics,” he said. “But I really walk the middle aisle. I sell stuff for both campaigns, so that’s just more incentive not to really openly choose a side.”

This is a common quality among these vendors – just because they are selling the goods, that doesn’t mean they support it.

Morgan Sheets, a 25-year-old from Indianapolis, who works for Shop Political, has been to numerous rallies for both political parties during the past two months.

“This is an important election,” Sheets said. “It’s great seeing the rallies for both sides. And I get to talk to a lot of people who support both sides.”

Corinne Swazey and Barbara Baker buy their paraphernalia to support Sarah Palin from the vendors at the event.

Corinne Swazey and Barbara Baker, two women from Cary, N.C., who volunteer at the election polls, said they came to the rally to support Sarah Palin because they believe she and John McCain are the best choice to lead America.

“I bought all of this stuff here to support them,” Swazey said.

“We will wear it until we go to work at the polls,” Baker said. “But we aren’t allowed to wear it while we’re working there.”

Josh Reyes, a vendor from California, is actually strongly opposed to the McCain-Palin campaign.

“I support Obama,” he said. “There’s obviously two different diversities in the people in this race, but you know what? The enthusiasm, the drive… Obama has it. I hope he wins.”

Reyes got into selling campaign paraphernalia through a random connection.

“I hooked up with my boss and we sell stuff for both parties,” he said. “I’m really just doing this to get money.”

Phunn agrees that the job has nothing to do with supporting a specific candidate.

“It is a job,” Phunn said. “Everybody’s doing it for the money. Anyone who tells you different is lying.”

Phunn and his company don’t give any of their profit to specific candidates. Instead, they donate money to both the RNC and DNC so that they will be allowed to go to the events.

According to Reyes, business is booming. He and his boss get 50 percent of the cut while the other 50 percent goes to the campaign.

“You can literally make about 1,000 T-shirts for $200,” he said. “It’s a great profit.”

Reyes sells his T-shirts for $20, and said that he usually has days like the one he had at Elon – he can sell about 40 shirts.

Towards the end of the rally though, Reyes lowers his price to $10, and has a strategy that he claims works.

“Once I started pouting, asking people to help me out…” he said, “…it really f’in works.”

With one of the most popular tents at the event, Phil Phunn says his visit to Elon was a good one financially.

Phunn agreed that his day at Elon was a good day for business.

“And hey, I got to see Hank Williams Jr.,” he said of the day’s rally. “I get to meet a lot of interesting people who want to chat.”

He has had the opportunity to meet and take pictures with many high-profile characters, including Hillary Clinton, during his time following campaigns. According to Phunn, the primaries are actually the best time to meet people, and the Democratic party’s candidates are often more friendly.

“The Republicans are a little shyer,” he said.

Phunn and Foran are one of seven different crews working wtih Campaign Curt.

“He tries to keep us all spread apart so we don’t have competition against each other,” Foran said.

As for the competition among individual vendors, most agree that it is a friendly relationship.

“Even the competition outside of our company,” Sheets said, “we’re all social… well, civil. But on the team, we’re really close.”

While traveling to different states and cities is exciting, Phunn said that life following the campaign can be trying, especially with a 4-year-old daughter at home. It is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting.

As soon as they could pack up their van, Phunn and Foran were planning to drive the nine-hour trip to Cincinnati through the night, without even taking the time to stop for showers or sleep.

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5 Comments on “Vendors follow the 2008 presidential campaign making money along the way”

  1. Chris Moran Says:

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Jamie Holts Says:

    Can you tell me who did your layout? I’ve been looking for one kind of like yours. Thank you.

  3. Jamie Holts Says:

    I found your site on Google and read a few of your other entires. Nice Stuff. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

  4. Jamie Holts Says:

    I’ve been reading along for a while now. I just wanted to drop you a comment to say keep up the good work.

  5. andersj Says:

    Miriam, this is a really nice piece of reporting. You found a good sidebar and talked with many interesting people. You included some excellent storytelling quotes and the type of specific details people want to read.

    The photos are a good touch. You should write captions for all of them. If you had used a fill-flash when you shot the photo of Phil Phunn, you would have had a better portrait of him. Actually at a contrasty event like this sunny-day rally it’s sometimes good to cover yourself by taking some photos with flash and some without of each important portrait, because you then have more than one option when you are selecting visuals to accompany your story.

    This will be a nice multiplatform piece if you include video – I hope you shot some footage and you just didn’t get it uploaded yet. It is so easy to bring the Flip camera along on something like this and get a couple of quick interview clips to post.

    Your headline is not SEO – you need to get keywords like Elon, Palin, Obama, Election, etc. in there so search engines find your great work!

    There’s a typo on the word “time” in the seventh paragraph.
    Democrat and Republican should be upper-case.
    Eight paragraphs up from the bottom you should hyphenate high-profile.

    You have a couple of inside-out sentences in this story that you should flip:

    They are the vendors at large events selling paraphernalia… should be …They are the vendors selling paraphernalia at large events.

    Working with Campaign Curt, Phunn and Foran are one of seven different crews… should be …Phunn and Foran are one of seven different crews working with Campaign Curt.

    Video. Video. Video. Video. I’m going to keep chanting it until I see you use more with your work!

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