Capping off one campaign

February 24, 2004

For about a month this presidential campaign season, orange was the new black - at least for supporters of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Several thousand sported gaudy orange knit caps reading "Iowa Perfect Storm" during and after the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

But now that the early Democratic front-runner has taken his hat from the ring and the so-called "Deaniacs" ponder what's next, what fate awaits these brightly colored bits of campaign life? Will they become musty museum pieces? Must-have collectibles? Or maybe Green-style recyclables, finding new life with reborn presidential candidate Ralph Nader?

Lasting political symbol? Campaigns & Elections magazine editor-in-chief David Mark is dubious. "I think eBay will be their final resting place. Maybe if [Dean] gave out peanut bags, it would have been better."

Marianne Curling, acting curator of the Museum of American Political Life in West Hartford, Conn., is blunt: "It's a political artifact right now." As for value, she said, prices could surge - if boxes stuffed with the hats aren't still lying around empty campaign offices.

Warm personal memento? Yes, says Dennis Greenia, a Maryland Dean supporter who campaigned in Iowa. His cap sits atop his dresser. "It will always have meaning for me, but insofar as being a salable commodity, I haven't really thought about it in that way." He suspects at least a few supporters may turn up in their caps at reunion-style Dean "meet-ups" scheduled for March 3.

Fashion trend-setter? Center Stage costume craftsman Wil Crowther hopes not. "I think they are just horrible. I hope it has no impact on costumes and fashion."

Still, the headgear could appeal to the outdoorsy set: Maryland state law requires hunters to wear bright orange.

Big-time collectible? At least one fluorescent Dean cap is for sale on the online auction site eBay.

"If you are into politics and want to own a historic piece of Dr. Dean's campaign, then this hat is the perfect item for you," reads the pitch for Item No. 3662921846. Bidding starts at $25.

Too steep? You can still fit in at next week's meet-up: A basic orange knit cap is available from Dick's Sporting Goods for just $2.49.

- Christina Santucci

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