Crystallizing presidential politics

In a recent issue of Glamour magazine, presidential candidate John McCain’s wife, Cindy McCain, can be seen wearing a large campaign pin. But it wasn’t just any regular campaign pin. It was bedazzled with Swarovski crystals.

The pin is a creation of local designer Ann Hand, one of many on display in the windows of her two stores in Palisades and Georgetown. Hand has become well-known in recent years for her array of political jewelry and is causing a stir this election season with timely pieces like “McCain 2008” and “Obama 2008” pins.

Alongside the pins, which sell for $45 each, is a large white dry-erase board in her window where Hand keeps a daily poll of the number sold in favor of each candidate.

At present, the score is Obama: 2500, McCain: 1400.

Hand, a Texas native, is known nationwide for her patriotic baubles, scarves and ties worn by the likes of military officials, beauty queens and first ladies. She started making jewelry in 1988 and counts first lady Laura Bush as one of her clients.

Cindy McCain restocked her supply of McCain pins just last month, buying several more from the Palisades store for members of her staff, Hand said.

The popularity of the Obama pin over its Republican counterpart is interesting, said Hand, who began making presidential campaign pins and keeping a tally in 1996. “For the other elections, the candidates seemed to have been far closer” in number of pins sold.

The tally has become an attraction in the neighborhood, with some passersby stopping outside of the window to peek at the latest count on the white board.

“We get a kick out of that,” Hand, a Spring Valley, Md. resident, said.

There are also pins that read “Sarah” for supporters of the Republican vice-presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin and “Biden” for supporters of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden. A pin that reads “Palin” should be arriving later this week.

The Biden pins were an immediate success, Hand said, adding that she expects the Palin ones to follow suit.

“We were beginning to get inundated with requests for Sarah and Palin pins (when she was nominated),” said Hand, a political independent.

Hand has also designed travel beverage mugs in honor of each candidate, with colors representing each candidate’s political party, blue for Obama and red for McCain. The $25 drink containers, which feature a band of Swarovski crystals and the candidate’s name near the top, sold out much faster than Hand anticipated.

“Those are fun,” she said excitedly about the mugs, which are embellished with the crystals in New York. The first shipment in March contained hundreds of mugs and sold out, as did the June shipment.

At $175, Hand’s large black McCain and Obama sunglasses, with each candidate’s name in crystal lettering, are the priciest of her trademark presidential election items.

The 2008 campaign has been her most successful yet, selling more merchandise than ever before.

Although she advertises only in a local magazine, word-of-mouth praise for her creations and the accessibility of the Internet has brought in major business. A large portion of pin orders come through her Web site, she said.

But Hand’s stores – characterized by their elegant, homey décor – are what provide the bona fide Ann Hand experience.

“I like to be surrounded by warm fabrics, rugs and antiques, and I think my clients do too. That’s what makes me happy,” Hand said.

Her stylish stores are a long way from her very first shop – “a small little cottage” in the garden of her and her husband Lloyd’s former Georgetown residence. She used to make all of the jewelry herself, but since demand became too much to handle, she established factories in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and overseas.

Scattered on the walls among the jewelry cases and shelves in her stores are dozens of photographs of Hand with political celebrities like Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hand has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Washingtonian, USA Today and Glamour, and she was recently named the official jeweler for the Miss America Foundation.

Why all of the fanfare?

“(People) want to wear their vote and speak out for their candidate,” she said. “A lot of people really are feeling very passionate – more so in this election that I can ever remember.”

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