WASHINGTON – While U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, trade barbs about the state of the economy in this year’s presidential campaign, they're also helping to drive a mini-economy of campaign-related merchandise. But if political buttons, bumper stickers, and T-shirts are what you had in mind, think again.
Along with the more mundane items, purchased with the click of a mouse on either candidate's website, the political showdown has spurred an underworld of offbeat paraphernalia -- with items ranging from the cute and quirky to the downright bizarre.
Flip Flop Shops, a national retailer of sandals, offers footwear bearing the images of either Obama or Romney for around $10 a pair. Brian Curin, the company's president, says he couldn't pass up the opportunity to make a campaign season pun.
"We were -- much like, I think, a lot of people -- getting really exhausted listening to the different speeches and all the things leading up to the election. Flip-flopping [on the issues] seems to be pretty synonymous with the presidential election and politicians in general," Curin says, "and we thought we'd have fun with it. We've sold thousands throughout the U.S."
The company also pledges to donate $1 from every purchase to the U.S. Treasury.
"If the government can't figure out how to pay the debt down, at least we can do our small part," Curin says with a chuckle.
Surfing the web opens up a slew of other creative ways to support or slam one side or the other.
Democrats confident of an Obama victory on November 6 can prepare for the celebration by buying etched Obama martini glasses. And what better way to drink up than with "Romney Sucks" drinking straws? You can buy a pack of six for $7.99.
Soap in the shape of Mitt Romney's head sarcastically promises to "wash away the poor," and Romney voodoo dolls are also available, complete with a note from the online seller disclaiming responsibility for any "coincidental accidents" that might arise.
PHOTO GALLERY: Quirky campaign merchandise
Not to let politics stand in the way of a sale, the same vendor offers a pin-ready Obama doll. Another online merchant offers an inflatable punching bag of Obama sporting a black eye. To trim your Republican Christmas tree, an Obama ornament for sale online reads, "Obama spent all our cash, from now on, China is our Santa Claus."
"I actually decided to buy a Romney Chia Pet, just because I thought it was funny," says David Connor, a 38-year-old store manager and Romney supporter from Florida. "I don't think I would buy an Obama voodoo doll, but I have some friends who I bet would love that thing."
Voters can also express their frustrations vicariously with the purchase of either Obama or Romney chew toys for their pet dogs.
For those wishing to make a more extreme statement -- and risk offending houseguests from the other party -- several websites even sell toilet paper with the image of the president and his challenger.
Arthur Berman, the owner of wackyplanet.com, which sells the rolls for $5.95 each, says his stock "sold out right away," with more buyers taking Obama to their bathrooms.
Janet Goff, a 56-year-old retiree from Washington state, says she hopes that voters from both parties would consider such an item to be "stooping too low."
In its extreme, this is an example of the liberty that we're allowed -- even to [show] absolutely shameful disrespect of a leader or a candidate.
"I wouldn't like someone doing that to the president, so as much as I detest Romney, I still don't know that I would put him on toilet paper," Goff says. "I have dogs, so I kind of like the chew toy idea, though. I could do that!"
Melinda Cantrell, 54, is an accountant from South Carolina. She says that in tough economic times, buying campaign novelties seems like a waste of money.
"I'm too cheap to buy it, but I think these things are fun," she says. "And since I'm a Republican, I'm all about free enterprise."
Earrings, baby bibs, Romney oven "mitts," and even condoms are also out there in support of both candidates.
Matt Anderson, a 64-year-old Democrat from Louisiana, takes a more philosophical approach. In many countries, he notes, making, selling, or owning such items could land someone in jail -- or worse.
"In its extreme, this is an example of the liberty that we're allowed -- even to [show] absolutely shameful disrespect of a leader or a candidate," Anderson says. "While I can say it doesn't [suit] me in any way, at the same time, you know, that's part of our rights system."