A History of the Campaign in 100 Objects

2 minute read

From Herman Cain’s cowboy hat to Stephen Colbert’s super-PAC fun pack to binders, Big Bird and bayonets, objects became the visual sound bites of the 2012 election. Perhaps because there was a dearth of ideas, politics watchers and Internet mememakers seemed to focus more on things than in any previous campaign. So we thought it only appropriate to create our version of the BBC–British Museum series A History of the World in 100 Objects to tell the story of the election. The pages that follow show the real thing: actual pieces of history, often given to us by the candidates themselves. Rick Perry lent us his Stars-and-Stripes cowboy boots, Jon Huntsman his beat-up briefcase, Rick Santorum his dog-eared pocket Constitution. Michele Bachmann sent the suit she wore on the day she won the Iowa straw poll. Saturday Night Live lent us the dentures Jason Sudeikis wears to flash Joe Biden’s smile. The president of an Ohio charity sent us a soup pot that Paul Ryan cleaned—or recleaned—during an impromptu drop-by. Congressman Darrell Issa lent us the gavel he used during the congressional hearing about security in Libya. And the Republican National Committee let us photograph the empty chair that famously shared the stage with Clint Eastwood.

Richard Stengel is the managing editor of TIME.

Image: Democrats' and Republicans' Lectern
Democrats' Lectern “I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have ... But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place, and I’m asking you to choose that future.” —Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 6, 2012 Republicans' Lectern “What is needed in our country today is not ­complicated or profound. It doesn’t take a special government commission to tell us what America needs. What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs.” —Mitt Romney, Republican National Convention, Tampa, Aug. 30, 2012Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Campaign Buttons
Buttons Twitter invites candidates to boil their message down to haiku, but that is epic poetry compared with the instant message delivered by the campaign button. No issue in American politics has ever been so thorny or complex that it couldn’t be expressed on a tiny circle of metal. Health care, immigration, abortion rights, gay rights, oil drilling, the war on women—all these topics found their way onto voters’ lapels during 20 months of primary and general campaigning. Luckily for the Republican nominee, members of Dogs Against Romney don’t yet have the right to vote.Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Plastic Rain Poncho, Glitter Bomb and Solyndra Hard Hat
Plastic Rain Poncho Two days before the Michigan primary, Romney stopped by the NASCAR Daytona 500 and told a group of plastic-poncho-clad fans, “I like those fancy raincoats you bought. Really sprung for the big bucks.” Glitter Bomb So-called glitterati activists targeted politicians including Gingrich, Romney, Santorum and Bachmann for their failure to stand-up for gay rights and women's rights. Solyndra Hard Hat The California solar-panel business became a dirty word that dogged the President throughout the campaign.Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME
Image: Michele Bachmann's Suit and Rick Perry's Boots
Michele Bachmann's Suit The Minnesota Congresswoman’s first-place finish in the Iowa straw poll was the high point of her presidential campaign. She wore this Kasper suit (retail price: $240) for her speech to Republicans in Ames on Aug. 13, 2011. Bachmann dropped out of the race on Jan. 4 after coming in sixth in the Iowa caucuses. Rick Perry's Boots “I’m glad I had my boots on tonight, because I sure stepped in it out there,” Rick Perry said after his “Oops” moment in the Nov. 9, 2011, debate, when he couldn’t remember the names of three government departments he wanted to abolish. Rocky Carroll made this pair of ostrich-leather boots for the Texas governor in 2001. Perry chose the words freedom and liberty in honor of 9/11 victims. Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Big Apple Pizza Menu, HPV Vaccine and Etch-A-Sketch
Big Apple Pizza Menu In a photo that quickly went viral, the owner of this Florida pizza shop, Scott Van Duzer, was photographed lifting President Obama off the floor in a bear hug on Sept. 9. HPV Vaccine Michele Bachmann earned criticism for suggesting in a television interview that “that injection” could cause “mental retardation.” The American Academy of Pediatrics responded, “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement." Etch-A-Sketch Rick Santorum called Romney “the Etch A Sketch candidate."Grant Cornett for TIME (1); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (2)
Image: Binders Full of Women, Jesse Thorsen's Helmet and Godfather's Pizza Box
Binders Full of Women ‘I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” And they brought us whole binders full of women.’—Romney, describing his efforts to recruit women when he became governor of Massachusetts. Jesse Thorsen's Helmet After the Iowa caucuses, veteran Jesse Thorsen, who wore this helmet while serving in Afghanistan, was reprimanded by the Army Reserve for endorsing libertarian Ron Paul while in uniform. Godfather's Pizza Box “When the Pillsbury Co. made me CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, I didn’t get the memo that the company was headed for bankruptcy. It wasn’t easy, but we turned the company around. Today I am announcing that I am running for President of the United States.”—Herman Cain, in his YouTube announcement video, released May 18, 2011 Grant Cornett for TIME (2); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (1)
Image: Herman Cain's Hat and Rick Santorum's Shale
Herman Cain's Hat When Cain won the Florida straw poll on Sept. 24, 2011, “it shocked the political world,” he later told Time. “It shocked everybody.” In January he wore this hat to a Rock Me like a Herman Cain rally in Charleston, S.C. Rick Santorum's Shale In a speech following the Michigan primary, Rick Santorum said Big Government was suffocating the domestic energy industry and produced this piece of shale, waving it around to make his point. “This is oil,” he told the crowd. “Oil. Out of rock. Shale.” Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Big Bird, Do Not Euthanize Me Bracelet and Sweater Vest
Big Bird “I like PBS. I love Big Bird,” Romney said in the first debate. “But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.” Do Not Euthanize Me Bracelet Rick Santorum said that elderly people in the Netherlands wear bracelets that say “Do not euthanize me” because euthanasia accounts for 10% of deaths in Holland and half of those people are euthanized involuntarily. In fact, Santorum’s statistics were overblown and the bracelets nonexistent. A joke website was soon selling mock bracelets. Sweater Vest The campaign’s “official wardrobe,” according to Santorum. Grant Cornett for TIME (2); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (1)
Image: Image: The Book of Mormon, Super PAC Fun Pack and Michelle Obama's Nail Polish
The Book of Mormon Was Romney’s faith a liability? One in five voters said they would not vote for a Mormon, but stories of his work ministering to his congregation showed a softer private side. Super PAC Fun Pack Comedian Stephen Colbert's do-it-yourself starter kit ($99) included an instruction manual, an Allen wrench, a T-shirt that reads “Turtles don’t like peanut butter,” a pair of tube socks, a treasure map and a small canned ham resembling Karl Rove. Michelle Obama's Nail Polish The First Lady wore this muted blue-gray gel polish for her speech at the DNC.Grant Cornett for TIME (2); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (1)
Image: P90X DVDs, Trayvon Martin's Skittles and Official Obama Birth Certificate Mug
P90X DVDs Paul Ryan’s preferred exercise regime. He even kept the workout on his iPad for use on the campaign trail. Trayvon Martin's Skittles Activists brandished skittles—which Martin had bought just before his death—after the 17-year-old was killed by neighborhood-watch coordinator George Zimmerman. Official Obama Birth Certificate Mug Obama released the long-form copy of his birth certificate at an April 2011 press conference.Grant Cornett for TIME (2); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (1)
Image: Clint Eastwood's Chair and Soup Kitchen Pot
Clint Eastwood's Chair Prime-time viewers of the GOP Convention witnessed the year’s most bizarre political debate, improvised by surprise guest Clint Eastwood with this empty chair, occupied by Invisible Obama, who became an instant Twitter star after being harangued by the Hollywood icon. Eastwood to chair: “You’re crazy. You’re absolutely crazy. You’re getting as bad as Biden.” Soup Kitchen Pot After Paul Ryan visited a Youngstown, Ohio, soup kitchen on Oct. 13, Brian Antal, president of the charity, accused him of staging a photo op without permission and washing dishes that were already clean.Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Ron Paul Cookbook, Martha Raddatz's Press Pass and Jon Huntsman's Briefcase
Ron Paul Cookbook Sold by the campaign of the three-time presidential candidate. Martha Raddatz's Press Pass Martha Raddatz of ABC won high marks for keeping the always aerobic Biden and the wonky Ryan focused during their Oct. 11 debate. Jon Huntsman's Briefcase The former Utah ­governor and ambassador to China was rarely without this Aston leather briefcase on the campaign trail.Stephen Voss for TIME (2); Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Dressage Foam Finger, Cheesey Grits and Two-Dads Onesie
Dressage Foam Finger Ann Romney waved a self-mocking foam finger as her horse Rafalca competed for a spot in the London Olympics. Cheesey Grits ‘Morning, y’all. Good to be with you. I got started right this morning with a biscuit and some cheesy grits. I’ll tell ya—delicious.’ —Romney at an event in Jackson, Miss. Two-Dads Onesie Obama became the first sitting President to support same-sex marriage, saying, ‘It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.’Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Joe Biden Teeth
Joe Biden Teeth Since 2008, comedian Jason Sudeikis has played Joe Biden on Saturday Night Live. Sudeikis has been helped by this prosthesis, molded on his teeth and painted by makeup artist Louie Zakarian to match the Vice President’s smile. Biden—or Big Daddy Joe, as he’s called on SNL—likes to talk, and his gaffes (when he jumped the gun on the President’s supportive statement about same-sex marriage, for example) have been a trademark of his time in office. His teeth, however, took the spotlight after the VP debate on Oct. 11, when he smirked and laughed so often at Paul Ryan that his smile took on, in critics’ eyes, an aggressive, condescending life of its own. Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: Chick-fil-A Sandwich, Planned Parenthood Condom and Supreme Court Quill
Chick-fil-A Sandwich Mike Huckabee declared Aug. 1 Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day after the chain’s CEO, Dan Cathy, affirmed his company’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Planned Parenthood Condom The ­organization distributed hundreds of anti-Romney-Ryan condoms at the Democratic Convention. Supreme Court Quill On June 28 the Supreme Court upheld key portions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature piece of legislation.Grant Cornett for TIME (2); Stephen Voss for TIME (1)
Image: Image: David Corn Thank You Card, Rick Santorum's Pocket Constitution and U.S. Military Bayonet
David Corn Thank You Card Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief David Corn posted an anonymously recorded video of Romney’s "47%" remarks on the magazine’s website. Rick Santorum's Pocket Constitution ‘I wave this Constitution at every speech, and I talk about it being the operator’s manual of America. It’s how America works.’ U.S. Military Bayonet Obama's Oct. 22 debate quote, “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed.” Grant Cornett for TIME (1) Stephen Voss for TIME (2)
Darrell Issa's Gavel Foreign policy had been a footnote in an economy-focused campaign until a deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. On Oct. 10, Republican Representative Darrell Issa banged this gavel to start a four-hour congressional hearing on security at the consulate; days later, he accused the Obama Administration of concealing facts about the attack. Gas Can Hurricane Sandy left thousands of East Coast residents displaced and millions more stranded in the dark. With public transportation and power lines down, cars and generators offered relief—until they ran out of fuel. Gas prices had once threatened to become a campaign issue; instead, the days leading up to Nov. 6 were marked by gas lines in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut, as crowds of consumers holding red jerricans waited for fuel at the few stations that had any. Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: White House Honey, Birth Control and Tiffany Box
White House Honey Always eager to promote healthy eating and exercise, Michelle Obama presented Jay Leno with a jar of official White House honey when she appeared on his show. Birth Control When the Obama Administration required in January 2012 that most health-insurance plans provide free access to contraception, Catholic bishops charged that it was a violation of religious freedom. Tiffany Box After it was revealed that Newt Gingrich and wife Callista had owed luxury jeweler Tiffany up to $500,000, critics nicknamed the candidate "Newt Blingrich." Grant Cornett for TIME (1); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (2)
Image: 7-Eleven Election Cups, TransCanada Helmet and Sollmann Electric Uniform
7-Eleven Election Cups ‘Get your steaming hot cup of democracy’ was the tagline for 7-Eleven’s coffee-cup poll. TransCanada Helmet Obama rejected an application to build the Keystone XL pipeline, a Trans­Canada project. Sollmann Electric Uniform ‘My name is Dennis Sollmann, president of Sollmann Electric, and I built this.’ So said a small-business owner in an ad denouncing Obama’s ‘You didn’t build that’ line.Grant Cornett for TIME (1); Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME (2)
Image: Ohio Absentee Ballot
Ohio Absentee Ballot In 2008, 30% of Ohio ballots were cast early or absentee. This year both candidates focused on Ohio as a key battleground, especially after the government bailout of the auto industry gave Obama unusual traction with white male voters. Grant Cornett for TIME
Image: RNC Balloon
Balloon from the RNC More than 100,000 red, white and blue balloons rained down on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to celebrate their nomination at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30. The Friday before the convention, Tampa high school students helped blow up the balloons provided by Anaheim, Calif.’s GlassHouse Balloon Co. at a rate of about 20,000 an hour. Crews in the rafters of the Tampa Bay Times Forum dropped the balloons in waves amidst raucous cheers and confetti on the convention’s final night after Romney’s acceptance speech.The Democrats, perhaps trying to strike a more reserved tone given economic woes, skipped the classic balloon drop at their convention the following week.Grant Cornett for TIME

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