Carving a Political Niche

By Karin Caifa in Washington

On front lawns across battleground states nationwide, campaign signs seem as plentiful as fallen leaves. The signage in support of candidates up and down the ballot – especially those at the top like John McCain and Barack Obama – dot the landscape, just like another sign of autumn – Halloween pumpkins.

Like many other symbols of fall that just go better together – like apple cider and donuts, or rakes and leaves – politics and pumpkins have merged in the hopes of creating a more perfect autumn union. We saw shades of it last week at a Republican rally, where artfully carved pumpkins spelled out, “Victory in Ohio,” on the dais when vice presidential pick Sarah Palin spoke.

But some creative supporters of Barack Obama have taken it even further. They’ve launched the website, which encourages Obama-Biden supporters across the nation to replace, or perhaps supplement, the traditional campaign sign with a “Barack O’Lantern.”

For the uninitiated, a “Barack O’Lantern” is a Halloween jack-o-lantern that replaces the traditional pumpkin face – that nondescript jagged mouth and triangular eyes and nose – with the face of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, or another symbol of his campaign. Two “Yes We Carve” founders, husband-and-wife team Josh and Bethany Horton of Memphis, stumbled across the idea while discussing ways to show some seasonal support for the Democratic ticket. Someone said they would be carving an “Obumpkin,” and Josh and Bethany came up with “Barack O’Lantern.” Jason Powers of New York City then came up with the idea to share similar creations on the website and, as another site co-founder Josh Jeter describes it, “Things moved pretty quickly from there.”

If you’re a fan of the Obama-Biden ticket, but not so much a jack of the pumpkin-carving trade, that’s okay. The site offers step-by-step instructions, starting with their stencils, which include a smiling Barack Obama, or a silhouette of the Democrat’s face, or – for those carving across party lines this fall – the Republicans for Obama logo. But, of course, more ambitious types are free to unleash their political talents on a round orange canvas with their very own designs. Whether you’re carving freestyle or sticking with a stencil, there’s just one rule, says Jeter: “No attack-o-lanterns.”

With their invitation to submit photos to the site – and now a contest that will reward the most creative carver with an iPod Nano — the response to has been pretty big, says Jeter. “We had to ask people to join our team to help keep up with the pumpkins,” Jeter says of submissions to the site. “I think we received somewhere around three hundred ‘kins yesterday.”

The group also facilitates the planning of local “BYOP” – that is, “Bring Your Own Pumpkin” – get-togethers. Gatherings from San Francisco to New York are listed on the site, planned for the lead-up to Halloween and, of course, Election Day.

How has the Obama camp responded to putting their candidate’s face on, well, pumpkins? “We’ve been contacted by a number of staffers in the campaign, and we received a super sweet Biden pumpkin from campaign headquarters in Chicago,” Jeter said. (Would that be a “Joe O’Lantern?”)

There is one downside to the success of the site, Jeter says. After getting things started with a few creations up front, the crew has had little time to make more. “Our personal carving has had to give way a bit to some of the pumpkin-coordination-work.”

Karin Caifa is a political producer with CNN who contributes to this blog via CNN’s Running Mates.

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