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Opinion

Winning the pup-ular vote

First dogs affect White House image more than you'd think.

By Joel M. Vance / July 30, 2008



Russellville, MO.

It has happened already: Muttgate. Sen. John McCain has a dog; Sen. Barack Obama does not. The Associated Press and Yahoo found that pet owners favor Senator McCain over Senator Obama, with dog owners particularly in McCain's corner. Even cat owners went for McCain.

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One pet owner said dog owning "tells you that they're responsible at least for something, for the care of something."

Presidential dogs have not only been prominent in politics, but in more than a few instances they've been image breakers and makers.

When Buddy, Bill Clinton's Lab was killed by a car in 2000, the nation mourned. The national empathy for that loss could have played a small part in easing leftover tension from White House scandals at the time.

Vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon, hounded (couldn't resist) by allegations that rich backers were supporting his luxurious lifestyle, made "the Checkers speech" in which he emotionally defended accepting the gift of a cocker spaniel. "Regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it," Mr. Nixon declared. And Mr. Nixon remained on the ticket.

Less fortunate was Lyndon Johnson who scandalized dog owners by picking up one of his two beagles by the ears. Presidents by that time knew the value of being considered dog lovers and Mr. Johnson was a consummate politician, but he stumbled badly with the ear-pulling incident. "Those Republicans are really bashing me about picking those darned dogs up by the ears," he grumbled to his vice-president Hubert Humphrey. There were possibly other issues involved in Mr. Johnson's decision not to run for a second term, but Beaglegate certainly wouldn't have helped.

Harry Truman, who defended Johnson, is rumored to have said, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." He didn't have a dog, and perhaps should have listened to his own advice. In office Truman managed to score among the lowest public opinion polls of any president.

George W. Bush has had two Scotties (Barney and Miss Beasley), and the late Spot, a springer spaniel and son of Millie, the White House dog when the first George Bush was president. However, we hardly hear any news about them any more. They might not have been able to boost the president's image miraculously at its lowest, but they might, at least, help.

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