CONCORD, N.H. -- The 48 bits of cardboard read like a Who's Who of American presidential politics: John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Colossus G. Benson.
Yes, Colossus G. Benson. And Billy Joe Clegg, Georgiana Doerschuck and Arthur O. Blessitt, all people -- or at least primates -- with one-time presidential ambitions and now stars of New Hampshire Presidential Primary Trading Cards.
First printed last year as a civics lesson for the state's fourth-graders, the trading cards have become keepsakes for political junkie types who mainline C-SPAN and know Edmund S. Muskie's middle name (it's Sixtus).
The cards carry campaign scenes from the quadrennial New Hampshire primary on one side and candidate factoids and election results on the other.
Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, the 800-pound gorillas of their parties, posted impressive victories in the 1952, 1960 and 1968 primaries, respectively. But Benson, the only real gorilla ever to vie for votes, has only his card left to show for his ill-fated 1980 campaign.
Choosing from among 44 years' worth of mainstream and fringe candidates was easy, the cards' creators insist.
"It wasn't a real big intellectual exercise," says New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner. "If we had a good picture or good memories of the person, they made the cut."
That could explain why actors Ronald Reagan and Tom "Billy Jack" Laughlin have cards, while the former mayor of Tinseltown, plug-ugly Sam Yorty, does not.
As the official who signs up the candidates and takes their $1,000 filing fee, Gardner knows them all. He was the one who had to break the news to the Benson campaign that its 475-pound candidate didn't meet the age requirement.
"He didn't come in because security wouldn't let a gorilla in the State House. So he sent his campaign manager -- a chimpanzee in a white suit," recalls Gardner.
Gardner, noting the candidate was only 12 in human years, returned the money to the chimp. "He behaved pretty well to that point," he says. "Then he climbed the curtains to the ceiling."
Benson, whose card carries his Vegetarian Party platform ("Eat More Vegetables"), suffered a double defeat when the zoo he called home failed some years later.
While Benson is the only non-human candidate in the deck, he may not be the oddest chronicled in the cards.
Republican Michael Levinson, for instance, who ran in 1988, '92 and '96, claimed that 10,000 clipper ships powered by solar panels could revive the country's economy. Georgiana Doerschuck, another Republican who ran in the past two primaries, proposed keeping mothers at home by paying them out of a Wives' Fund financed by 10 percent of their spouses' wages. Democrat and Republican Austin Burton (1968, '72, '76), who claimed to be a Native American, tried to pay the filing fee with a 4-foot- long snakeskin.
With the 2000 presidential race already starting to draw presidential aspirants to the Granite State, the trading cards have ended up in the hands of national political reporters and politicians like Pat Robertson (New Hampshire, 1988 -- and yes, he made the cut).
Former Gov. Hugh Gregg, the mastermind behind the cards and guardian of the state's first-in-the-nation primary standing, is already planning for a new crop of candidates to add next year.
"We tried not to pick anyone last time who might run again. But it looks like Pat Buchanan threw us a curve," he says, chuckling.
Gregg and Gardner hope to use the cards as a way to tout their other campaign -- to provide a permanent home for artifacts and research materials on the primary.
The Library and Archives of New Hampshire's Political Tradition, housed for now in the state library, has bumper stickers, campaign strategy papers and autographed books from candidates.
But it doesn't have perhaps the most famous bit of primary memorabilia: the microphone from the 1980 debate that made Ronald Reagan famous and derailed George Bush's ambitions for eight years.
Gregg, who had backed Bush, says that like the primary victory, the microphone went to the enemy camp: It's on display at the Reagan Presidential Library in California.
New Hampshire Primary Presidential Primary Trading Cards can be ordered through New Hampshire's Web site at www.nhprimary.nhsl.lib.nh.us.Cards are $5 per set or $25 for an uncut sheet.
Pub Date: 03/07/99