WASHINGTON -- The phone lines at Democratic Party headquarters are jammed these days. Not with pledges of huge contributions, but with T-shirt orders.
The shirt, mocking President Bush's overseas travels, has become a cult item for Democrats around the country. Copies are being snapped up at rates of up to 1,000 a day, with more than 11,000 sold so far, largely by word of mouth.
Of course, all that free advertising hasn't hurt. The news media have given generous coverage to the novelty item, which is a takeoff on the T-shirts worn by rock stars and their fans. Emblazoned with the words "George Bush: The Anywhere But '' America Tour," the shirt lists more than two dozen foreign destinations visited by the president over the past two years.
The T-shirt was featured on network newscasts earlier this month, when the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Representative Vic Fazio, D-Calif., displayed one before the TV cameras on the House floor.
But the best salesman of all may be Mr. Bush himself, who appears genuinely peeved by the shirt's existence and can't seem to stop talking about it. On at least five occasions over the past few weeks, the president has made references to the shirt, calling it a "gimmick," "crazy" and "silly." He told a GOP fund-raising audience in St. Louis, "The liberals in Congress go out and hold their press conferences, sell their funny little T-shirts and sabotage the initiatives that the American people want. And I'm getting sick and tired of it."
"Every time Mr. Bush mentions the shirt, sales go up," said Jose Rodriguez, owner of Politically Correct Clothing in downtown Washington, one of four stores retailing the shirt in the nation's capital. The black-and-white shirt is his "best seller," added Mr. Rodriguez, who has reordered three times in the past two weeks.
In fact, meeting the unexpectedly large demand for the shirt has been something of a problem for the folks at the Democratic National Committee, who are less adept at free enterprise than their Republican counterparts.
"People were kind of dying for something like this," said Dan Carol, the DNC's research director, noting that the Republican National Committee has been peddling political paraphernalia to its members for years. "Every time we get a new batch in, they sell out."
Mr. Carol, who dreamed up the idea as a way of gigging Mr. Bush for allegedly neglecting problems here at home, says one man drove to Washington from Scranton, Pa., just to buy 10 shirts at DNC headquarters. The shirts sell for $10 apiece, with about half of that amount going to the DNC as a political contribution.
Next week, the Democrats plan to send out more than 5,000 letters to their regular contributors, offering them a chance to purchase one of the shirts as a Christmas gift. But Mr. Carol says he doesn't plan to stop there.
K? Soon, he says, "we'll be starting work on our spring line."