All in the Cards

Politics shouldn't get lost in the shuffle

In what’s being billed as one of the must-watch US Senate showdowns of 2016, Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte already has one dubious advantage over Democratic challenger and outgoing Governor Maggie Hassan: Ayotte is the only one in the race to be honored with her own trading card.

New Hampshire’s junior senator was featured as one of the “Future Stars” of the 2020 presidential election by Decision 2016 Trading Cards, a new set treating politicians like professional athletes. Putting presidents’ faces on cardboard is a longstanding tradition: For the past few elections, you could find special inserts of the Democrat and Republican nominees inside packs of Topps baseball cards. Finding collectible Congress cards has been much tougher, however, with most of them being educational products with limited distribution.

Decision 2016 cards are different. If you want to get your own Kelly Ayotte rookie card, you can now buy packs at any Walmart, right next to the Pokemon and “Star Wars” cards. To me, this is the ultimate sign of success, the definitive symbol that Ayotte has broken out of the boring confines of C-SPAN and the Congressional Record.

As a diehard political junkie and baseball card collector, I’m thrilled to be able to open up my Red Sox album and place Sen. Ayotte right between David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts. To me, her Future Star card transcends politics — I’d love to see a Sen. Jeanne Shaheen card too. This card is about New Hampshire pride. Even though I was born south of the border, I’m still proud of Exeter’s Chris Carpenter for winning that 2005 Cy Young Award and am still beaming over Mont Vernon singer Alex Preston’s third-place finish two years ago on “American Idol.”

You know who’s not as excited about Kelly Ayotte’s new trading card? Kelly Ayotte’s office.

I recently contacted her press secretary to get the Senator’s thoughts on being immortalized on cardboard and being named a Future Star. This was her response:

“It is my honor to serve the people of New Hampshire by representing them in the US Senate, and my sole focus is working hard on their behalf. Our children are the next generation of leaders, and they can do anything they put their mind to. I encourage all students and their parents to learn about our political process, and think of ways that they can help make our nation the best place it can be.”

Decision 2016 cards offer the best Granite State coverage in nearly two decades.

Sure, I understand that Ayotte is really busy with Senate Armed Services Committee and Homeland Security stuff and can’t make commenting on trading cards her “sole focus.” I also realize that the ability to deliver witty quotes doesn’t always correlate with leadership and intelligence. But I hope that while the senator is working hard for the people of New Hampshire, a staffer will show her the card — and that it will elicit at least a brief smirk.

Fellow US Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) didn’t hesitate to embrace his rookie card, calling it “fairly amusing” in an April interview with ABC News. He said he never imagined seeing himself on one because “I can’t throw a fastball, and I can’t throw a curveball.” OK, not a hilarious response, but an admirable attempt at connecting with me and millions of other baseball fans.

Decision 2016 cards, which also commemorate the New Hampshire primary wins of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and the two candidate debates hosted by St. Anselm College, offer the best Granite State coverage in nearly two decades.

In 1998, a 48-card New Hampshire Presidential primary set was created by former Gov. Hugh Gregg for the Library & Archives of New Hampshire’s Political Tradition — a precursor of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics (NHIOP). I loved Gov. Gregg for devoting a special card to Colossus G. Benson, a 500-pound silverback gorilla that ran for president against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Colossus’ bid to be the nominee of the Vegetarian Party was a publicity stunt by Benson’s Wild Animal Farm in Hudson. The zoo had sent a chimpanzee “campaign manager” to the secretary of state’s office in Concord to file the paperwork, but the candidacy was rejected because monkeys are constitutionally ineligible for office.

The 47 non-gorilla cards in the set include some quirky tributes to the Granite State. President Ronald Reagan is shown holding up an “I (Heart) New Hampshire” sweater, 1956 Democratic vice presidential nominee Estes Kefauver is shown campaigning by dogsled and 1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale is captured ice fishing.

With US presidents being immortalized on everything from Pez dispensers to coins and bobblehead dolls, it’s not surprising to come across multiple cards of native son Franklin Pierce over the years. In addition to the several tobacco cards issued during the first half of the 20th century, Pierce made high-profile appearances in Topps US Presidents card sets in 1956 and 1972. Topps didn’t bother changing his biography — why would they? — and noted that at Bowdoin College he “had many friends and did not give much of his time to study.”

An even less flattering portrayal of the only New Hampshire-bred president came in last year’s edition of Topps’ Garbage Pail Kids, a cartoon satire set based loosely on the iconic Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. GPK cards try to be repulsive to counterbalance the cuteness of CPK dolls. Thus, Franklin Pierce becomes “Franklin Pierced,” a human pincushion of spikes, nails and rings, including one cluster of facial piercings that spells “USA.”

As for Kelly Ayotte’s far more traditional card, might it be a smart financial investment for collectors? Only time will tell, but a few months before the November election, she’s priced from 99 cents to $1.99 on eBay — about the same cost as a 2007 Upper Deck Chris Carpenter “Future Stars” card.

Upon closer scrutiny of my Granite State collection, Ayotte looks a little lonely by herself — like a politician debating an empty chair when her opponent doesn’t show up. To rectify this imbalance in the cardboard universe, I designed my own Gov. Hassan trading card and am sharing it for free to my fellow voters (along with a free Ayotte design). If you believe the pundits, the Kelly vs. Maggie rivalry could be more exciting than Red Sox vs.Yankees or Captain America vs. Iron Man. May the best woman win! 

Categories: Features, Politics