Here is one more thing to watch out for during the time between now and Election Day.
    I want you to give attention to a group of people who hang around political gatherings and rallies. Their eyes shift from person to person, from candidate to candidate, and from table to table — wherever political paraphernalia is being distributed.
    Watch them as they lurk around. They are not perverts. They are not dangerous or evil. But watch for them giving every political person the once over.{mosimage}
    These strange people are button collectors. They want to come away with at least one sample of every button they see. For them, the bounty of times like these are the additions to their collections that hard fought election campaigns, like our current ones, make possible for them.
    Political button collectors are generally shameless in their efforts to secure buttons. If they cannot find freely distributed buttons at a candidate’s table, they will accost the candidate directly, sometimes persuading the candidate to part with his own button. Then, the collector, rather than wearing the button, secures it in his pocket and moves on to find another.
    Now for a confession. I am one of these people. At least I used to be, until about 25 years ago when I became a candidate for office and gave up collecting.
    Most of us, collectors and former collectors, enjoy seeing the collections of others. With every button there is a story. Most of the stories of the buttons bring life to the candidates they represent. Often, they help tell something important or interesting about the campaigns and the political battles in which the buttons were used.
    For instance, take the campaign button for 1972 U.S. Senate candidate Nick Galifianakis, who was running against Jesse Helms. “Helms” fits easily on to a button, but Galifianakis is a “button-full.” Meeting this challenge, the Galifianakis campaign came up with the idea of two buttons: “Galifi” and “anakis.” It was cute, got attention, and helped give a positive and laughing response to the “he is not like us” messages about his opponent that sometimes crept into Helms’s campaigns.
    Those Galifianakis buttons are a proud part of my collection. They are also one small item in a new exhibit of North Carolina-related political memorabilia at the Wilson Library in Chapel Hill. Using examples of political buttons and related items, “Soapboxes and Tree Stumps, Political Campaigning in North Carolina” guides the visitor through more than 100 years of our state’s election campaign history.
    The new exhibit is composed largely of items from the new “Lew Powell Memorabilia Collection.” Powell, an editor at the Charlotte Observer, is a different kind of collector from the ones I have described. He concentrated on earlier rather than current campaigns. As a result, he had to pay, sometimes big bucks, for historic buttons like some special ones in the late 1800s and early 1900s when North Carolina white Democrats were wresting control of the state’s government from a coalition of Republicans, African Americans, and Populists.
    An early badge associated with industrialist and philanthropist Julian Shakespeare Carr (for whom Carrboro was named) says “North Carolina Redeemed,” which refers, according the exhibit, to the effort by Democrats to break the Republican-Populist coalition.
    Among the many great buttons that caught my attention were an “Ah Lahk Ike” from the 1950s, a 2000 button with a photo of Michael Jordan in support of presidential candidate Bill Bradley, and a 2004 John Edwards button with a close up of Edwards’ face and a caption that said “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” which was meant to suggest that Edwards was very close behind John Kerry and catching up fast.
    The exhibit runs through April 15. If you are a button collector, a political junkie or anyone with a passion for North Carolina history, don’t miss it.

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