PHILADELPHIA – Jacqueline Meeks never leaves her hotel room without Ronald Reagan.
And, until the November election, the Crisfield resident will keep Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees George W. Bush and Dick Cheney close to her.
The men, of course, are depicted on political buttons. Reagan and his campaign slogan “A New Beginning” hangs on the left side of her ankle-length vest, close to her heart, with four other buttons.
“I’ve been bitten by the bug,” the 70-year-old Meeks admits, remembering her first 1956 trinket, an “I like Ike” campaign button.
In 40 years of collecting, she’s gathered about 200 buttons.
This year, for the first time, Meeks gets to display some of her collection at her first national convention, thanks to her help in Somerset County Sen. Lowell Stoltzfus’ campaign. Stoltzfus gave her an invitation.
Baltimore 1999 mayoral candidate David Tufaro overheard Meeks’ recollection and with his hands illustrated his large “I like Ike” 1952 campaign button.
“Buttons don’t get used as much today,” Tufaro said. There are more ways to reach voters than word of mouth these days.
National Public Radio’s Ken Rudin, of Potomac, understands the mania for political paraphernalia. The convention history expert has collected 75,000 political buttons.
“The people who come here (conventions) are the ones that are really committed. They’re the people who really pay attention, who are really enthused in the whole process,” Rudin said.
Rudin collected his first buttons in 1966 when he was 15.
“I wrote to the candidates and they wrote me back,” Rudin said. “I had a shoebox full (of buttons) by the end of 1966. Now I have a full household.”
His current favorite button sports Cheney’s 1978 congressional campaign slogan, “Hi. I’m Dick Cheney.”
Wendell Wilkie, a dark horse in the 1940 presidential campaign, used more than 1,000 buttons opposing Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rudin said. Some of their slogans were: “No Third Termites,” “No man is good three times,” and “We don’t want Eleanor Either.”
Slogans in this convention are more toned down. There is less “red-meat stuff” in this convention, Rudin said. “It’s the tone that Bush is trying to set. He wants this to be a positive convention. 1992 was so red meat that it went over the top and eventually it hurt the party.”
In that convention, Republicans wore buttons that referred to Clinton as the “Failed Governor of a Small State.” The Democrats fired back with buttons calling Bush “The Failed President of a Large Nation.”
So far, the kinder, gentler buttons of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” campaign are a success.
“`W. Stands For Women.’ I love that slogan and I think it’s really going to catch on,” said Maryland District 5 Delegate Audrey E. Scott, the state’s convention rally chairman.
Volunteers at the First Union Center can be spotted wearing “Gee Dubya 2000” and the more simple “Bush 2000” buttons.
And as the Republican Party reaches out to minorities this year, campaign buttons have even gone bilingual. “Viva Bush” and “Yo Quiero Bush” buttons were being sold by private vendors.
Many delegates are also wearing gilded pins with a sheriff’s star and the words “George W. Bush 2000.”
But remnants of the 1992 and 1996 negative campaigns were still present, the Clintons being the target. At PoliticalFest, a convention-related display and sale of political memorabilia here, conventioneers could buy buttons saying, “I Didn’t Vote For the Dope from Hope” and “Help Hurry Hillary Home.”
The button craze will continue after the convention. Scott, attending her fifth consecutive convention, said she will sell some trinkets at the Bowie Republican Women’s Club for fund-raisers.
“We try to take them back (for) people without the opportunity to come to the convention,” Scott said.