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Right on the button; Clinton's candidacy means money to state and national makers of campaign paraphernalia.

At this moment, someone is conceiving a catchy phrase about Bill Clinton, his wife or his running mate.

Within days it will magically appear on buttons, bumper stickers and T-shirts. Eventually, it will find its way to every nook in the country.

Businessmen and women from Hope to Toledo, Ohio, have been cashing in on the fervor that has put the Clinton-Gore Democratic ticket in the heart of American pop culture.

"It has been insane," says Tony Baltes, president of Creative Photo Crafts Inc. of Toledo. Baltes makes buttons for the Democratic National Convention and the Clinton campaign, and he also is selling a surprising volume of buttons to independent vendors.

"This man is on fire out there," Baltes said of the Arkansas governor. "We've sold buttons for every candidate for 20 years, but we've never seen anything like this."

Most of Baltes' political buttons sport a simple, innocuous logo and photograph. But Gary Speed, a Little Rock partner with Hillary Clinton in the Rose Law Firm, has added a touch of controversy to the mix with a limited edition of issue-oriented buttons.

For $5, one can provoke arguments with a pro-choice button featuring a crossed-out coat hanger and the phrase, "Clinton: The Only Choice."

"I wanted a set of buttons you could frame and look back at," he says. "These are the cream of the crop."

Speed has printed 12,000 "unauthorized" buttons through Albertasaurus Corp., named for his young son, Albert, and a dinosaur of a slightly different spelling.

"Political buttons are sort of like dinosaurs," Speed says. He means most people bury them in their attics and dig them out many years later to discover they have become valuable.

Buttons For Serious Politicos

Other buttons from Speed's collection:

* "Do 'a Hillary.' Earn more money than your husband, the Governor of Arkansas."

* "Save the Rainforest: Transplant a Bush to Texas this November."

* "Lead, Follow or Get Out of The White House, Mr. Bush."

"I've been a button collector since 1964 when a friend gave me a Johnson-Humphrey button," Speed says. "This is really something that I started out doing just for fun. I've got some distance to go before I make any money."

The Albertasaurus buttons cost $5 and may be purchased in Little Rock at T-Shirt Trivia, News Mart on Main Street, Mail Boxes Etc. on West Markham Street and the gift shops of the Capital, Camelot and Excelsior hotels.

"They are selling briskly," Speed says.

In Toledo, Creative Photo Crafts has sold up to 400,000 buttons alone from one design featuring the Democratic running mates.

"This guy is hot," Baltes says. "I hate to speak in those terms -- I sound like a rock promoter."

Street vendors at the recent American Legion convention in Chicago reported Clinton buttons were outselling their George Bush counterparts by a four-to-one margin.

Baltes gets as many as 100 calls a day from Clinton fans, some angry because they can't obtain specialty buttons.

He laughs as he recalls a recent conversation with an irate person who wanted bumper stickers reading "Republicans for Clinton-Gore."

Presidential buttons normally don't start selling until after Labor Day, when the campaign traditionally becomes intense. But Clinton's bus-touring rampage has created an unprecedented early interest in his candidacy and the buttons that bear his likeness, Baltes says.

The company produces about 100 different Clinton items. The real eye-catchers are the Clinton watch -- complete with an orbiting red, white and blue donkey serving as a second hand -- and a six-inch Clinton-Gore button that also can be hung on the wall or folded out to rest on the mantle.

The majority of sales are made to local party chairmen, labor unions and street vendors, Baltes says. The average order includes 300-400 buttons.

Creative Photo Crafts wholesales them for about 50 cents each, and party workers typically sell them at a handsome profit for $5 or $6.

Home Sweet Hope

Perhaps no city in America has produced as many Clinton opportunists as Hope, Clinton's Hempstead County birthplace.

A visitor hardly can traverse a city block without seeing Clinton's face, his campaign logo, a watermelon or all three at once on a T-shirt, banner or coffee mug.

Perry Campbell has found a bonanza in Clinton materials at his three Hope businesses on Interstate 30. Campbell sells T-shirts, mugs and foam rubber beverage insulators at the Western Sizzlin, Best Western and Quality Inn locations he owns in a partnership with James Vess and Gary Chambless.

"I'm hoping to goodness he gets elected," Chambless says, and it's easy to see why. Hope could quickly become the Plains, Ga., of the '90s -- a tourist magnet that would keep merchants smiling for at least a four-year term.

Shortly after Clinton announced his candidacy, Chambless' brother developed a catchy T-shirt design bearing the words "Hope, Ark., Birthplace of Bill Clinton." Campbell has sold 2,000 shirts at $10.75. The same message is featured on $2.89 coffee mugs.

Indirectly, Clinton's candidacy also is contributing much-needed funds to a good cause in Little Rock.

The United Cerebral Palsy Rehabilitation Skills and Training Center has made many Clinton-related buttons, including the 12,000 for Albertasaurus, others for the Arkansas delegation to the Democratic National Convention and for the recent state convention. The agency makes about 19 cents on each button.

Robert Johnson, coordinator of employment services for the agency, says the buttons get swapped all over the country, and a little sticker on the back often attracts additional business.
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Author:Haman, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 7, 1992
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