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Shoppers' Guide to GOP Patriotic Paraphernalia

Sally Campbell of Slidell, La., is one Republican who was born to shop.

Now at her fourth national party convention, she owns enough patriotic clothing to fill a closet. One day, it's a gauzy American flag ensemble. Today, it's a blue blazer she decorated herself with eagles, George Washingtons, and Abraham Lincolns, outlined in glittery golden fabric paint.

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Soon a new outfit will make its debut. "I found a red, white, and blue blouse that goes perfectly with a skirt I already own!" announces the petite redhead, who runs Louisiana's chapter of the Christian Coalition.

In the event Ms. Campbell and other conventioneers haven't had time to scope out all of San Diego's venues for political merchandise, this reporter has conducted exhaustive research into the matter.

Among the findings: Nordstrom is selling beautiful leather Margaret Jerrold commemorative convention shoes ($170) and matching handbags ($200) appliqud with elephants and "San Diego 96." Sales are brisk, the clerks report.

Macy's has got your stars-and-stripes dinnerware, and Horton Plaza Farmers Market has got the menu: "Political Pasta," at $4.19 for a 12-ounce bag of elephant-shaped macaroni in the Republican package ("conservatively serves four," the label says), or donkeys in the Democratic variety ("enough for everyone").

In the city's historic Gaslamp quarter, the San Diego Wig Shop has turned over an entire display window to a variety of red, white, and blue wigs. The blue beehive style goes for $45 and a curly red and blue hairpiece for $35. Shop owner Helen Song says she hasn't sold any yet, but suggests someone might want some for a party. Perhaps the Whigs?

Other convention-wear can be found all over the city - sequined red-white-and-blue vests, red silk jackets with gold lame elephants ($127 in the Marriott hotel's gift shop), rhinestone elephant pins, gold-plated elephant cuff links ($65 at Johnston and Murphy's), and velvet Uncle Sam hats.

And then there are the ubiquitous political buttons, the keepsakes of all convention-goers and purveyors of sentiment that, with any luck, appreciate in value over the years. Button sellers report sales shot up when Jack Kemp was named Bob Dole's running mate. But they're also selling buttons that reflect ominously on Republicans' hopes for this year's ticket: "Steve Forbes in 2000," "Colin Powell in 2000," even "Elizabeth Dole in 2000." The charitable explanation is that Republicans expect Dole to retire after one term.

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For the child in all of us, local toy shops are peddling rubber hand puppets of Dole and President Clinton. John Spencer, a salesman at Horton Toy & Doll, clinches a sale when he demonstrates how to make the Dole puppet look like Quasimodo, then recalls with glee a college professor who conducted a political debate with a puppet on each hand.

Among the officially sanctioned vendors who have set up shop in the convention center, a few items stand out. There are the tear-away Bill Clinton dolls for $20 apiece, useful for Republicans who need to work out their aggressions against the president.

And this reporter's personal favorite: paintings of once and future Republican presidents on black velvet. "Commission Your Velvet Republican Today!" the banner exhorts. The salesman says he's taken the most orders for Ronald Reagan (sorry Bob Dole), a mere $400 for a 24- by 18-inch framed work, hand painted by an artist named Jorge in Tijuana, Mexico. He would not release actual sales figures but allowed that he's sold more than 10 and fewer than 50.

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