This year, trick-or-treating gets political

With just hours until Nov. 2, kids, parents, even pumpkins will be scaring up votes.

Eric Aulbach won't be doling out the traditional Halloween greeting as he trick-or-treats this year.

Dressed in a George W. Bush mask, aviator suit, backpack, and American flag, the 7-year-old from Chippewa Township, Pa., instead will exclaim, "Vote for George Bush" when doors open.

He knows his costume choice and political message might not bring in as much candy as, say, a nonpartisan ninja - especially in his heavily Democratic community. But the second grader doesn't care. "George Bush is a great president and I'm a Republican and one day I want to grow up to be just like him."

With only two days separating Halloween from the most divisive Election Day in decades, this year's fright night has become more than a jubilee of masks and Milk Duds. For many, it's an opportunity to poke some political fun - and a way to scare up votes.

Among the hordes of ghosts and goblins going door-to-door, you may spot parents passing out campaign propaganda, pumpkins bearing political messages, and children roaming the streets dressed as their - or their chaperones' - favorite presidential candidates.

Eric's mother will hand out Bush buttons along with Butterfingers. But deep in Bush territory, the Blackwood Gross family is planning a "Bush Bashing" party.

This political household watched every presidential debate together, discussing them at length with their two children. So it came as no surprise when 9-year-old Cecil announced that she'd made a half-Bush, half-Kerry paper-mâche mask in art class.

"My friend wanted to do a Bush mask, but then she didn't want to do it, so I decided to do Bush and Kerry," says Cecil. "I gave Bush these really gross nose hairs made out of a feather."

The family also plans to string up a Bush piñata for a neighborhood party, and will welcome trick-or-treaters with a giant pumpkin carved to read: "No W."

"Our neighborhood is pretty leftist," says Cecil's mom, Christa. "So it's mostly all in fun. Mostly."

The Blackwood Grosses are not the only family trying to sway the election with a pumpkin's vote. This year spookmaster.com added political stencils to their wares - and they've been instantly popular. There are images of candidates and their running mates, campaign propaganda, and party logos. Even Ralph Nader made the cut. While Bush's face is more popular than Kerry's in the stencil world, with 60 percent of purchasers favoring the president, there's no way to know how those pumpkins will be used, says cofounder Dan Cornette.

"Nobody has admitted they are going to carve the president so they can shoot him out of a cannon, but this is Halloween, and stranger things have happened," says Mr. Cornette, who's keeping his pumpkin's political identity under wraps.

A more reliable, yet still unofficial, gauge of voter intent may be a version of the costume worn by a 9-year-old in Denver before the 2000 election.

Stuffed inside a cardboard box covered with American flags, Kelley Gilbert's "ballot box" had a sign on the front that read: "Cast your vote here." She had two slots for candy on the top, one for George Bush and one for Al Gore, and the giver had to choose between the two.

By the end of the night, the Bush side was sagging under the weight of M&Ms, SweeTARTS, and mini Snickers bars - convincing Kelley and her family that the Texan would take the White House.

"I definitely didn't say anything when they put their candy in the hole, but I knew Bush was going to win, because there was like twice as much candy in there," she says. "Some people who couldn't decide put candy in both holes. That was even better."

While political masks are always popular, they're especially so this year: Most stores have already sold out of Bush and Kerry.

At Party Boy costumes, near downtown Houston, Stanley and Clay hoped to score a set of Bush masks. On the wall, they spotted Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Al Gore, Colin Powell, even Laura Bush - but no George W. Party Boy - the largest mask dealer in Houston - had sold out of both Bush and Kerry masks almost two weeks ago.

Rats, drats, and curses, utter Stanley and Clay, before wandering off to look for vampire costumes. "We hate to pick on Laura," says Clay, looking back and smirking.

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