A Coos Bay, Oregon buffalo rancher and buddy are traveling throughout the West selling an unusual campaign trinket: a coin bank in the shape of President Barack Obama’s head.
SEATTLE — Mike McGinnis and Jack Baggley made it just in time. The last Democratic voters at the April 15th Precinct Caucus at the Beacon Hill International School were just getting ready to put the chairs up on the tables when McGinnis and Baggley stormed into the room in a flurry of “how ya’ doins” and “hey theres.” The bemused Democrats remaining were each handed an object wrapped in plastic that looked suspiciously like it contained a head. When they unwrapped the unsolicited gift, that is exactly what they found. McGinnis and Baggley were giving away rubber coin banks in the shape of President Obama’s head. For free. As they handed each person a coin bank, they shook their hands or slapped them on the back with a hearty smile and the occasional “here ya’ go, Bank on Obama” or “glad we caught you all.” In all they probably handed out about a dozen of the coin banks to the generally amused and slightly befuddled recipients.
Looking more like red state cowboys than urban Democrats, McGinnis and Baggley cut an incongruous profile as they gleefully chatted up the last of the 37th District Democrats left in the room. It turns out that their looks weren’t the only thing unique about the pair. Wearing matching “PrezHead” t-shirts and with the air of two frat-boys pulling a prank, the two worked the room like seasond salesmen. Before heading back out to their car, McGinnis and Baggley took a moment to talk about why they were handing out rubber coin banks in the shape of the President’s head to strangers.
Despite their boyish enthusiasm, McGinnis looks to be in his mid fifties, with a horseman’s gait and a bushy salt and pepper beard, while Baggley, with a grey ponytail and trucker’s hat, looks a few years older. They both turned serious when asked what they were doing.
McGinnis was a successful businessman back in Arizona before retiring about five years ago and moving up to Coos Bay, Oregon to be a buffalo rancher. When the recession hit, he lost all of his real estate investments and was on the verge of losing his house as well. He hit the road selling the Obama coin banks to make ends meet. McGinnis sees the banks as his own “Obama stimulus package.”
Despite being an Obama-bank-toting salesman, McGinnis says he is apolitical.
“I’m neutral,” he declares when asked about his party affiliation.
“Independent?” I ask.
“No. Neutral. I don’t care about politics or politicians.”
The genesis of the idea definitely had Red State humor in it. He got the idea when he and friend both bumped their shins on a trailer hitch. McGinnis found a doll head lying nearby. He picked up the head (which happened to be black) and put it on the ball of the hitch. According to McGinnis, his friend said that the head looked like Obama. With that remark, the idea was born. McGinnis first prototyped a ball hitch in Obama’s likeness and when that proved to be successful at craft fairs and trade shows, he began to sell them online through a company he dubbed “PrezHead.”
When I asked him about the site, he said that I might be shocked by what I would find there. ”It’s pretty out-there,” he warned me with a sheepish smile. Indeed, when I did visit the site, it featured a slogan exhorting customers to cover parts of their anatomy with Obama. Now the site is closed temporarily for maintenance and has more benign descriptions of the hitch ball covers and coin banks. With the success of the trailer hitches, McGinnis began to think of other ways that he could capitalize on the presidential noggin during the upcoming election.
He thought of the bank idea and came up the slogan “Bank with Obama” and planned a one-man sales tour of political events around the West Coast. According to Baggley, who joined McGinnis on his road trip “just for fun,” the two had been to Democratic and Republican rallies, events and caucuses in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“The beauty of the banks,” according to Baggley, is that “people who love Obama buy them and people who hate Obama buy them.” He and McGinnis have heard some pretty nasty stuff about Obama at Republican rallies and events, but according to McGinnis they refuse to sell the banks to people who say blatantly offensive or racist remarks about the President.
This fall, they plan on hiring sales reps and extending their outreach to all 50 states. On caucus day, they were giving the heads away to Democrats in an effort to build a grassroots marketing buzz around the coin banks. They had already been to several caucus sites around Seattle before stopping by the Beacon Hill site.
With Mitt Romney likely to be the Republican presidential nominee, McGinnis is already designing a Romney head coin bank and hitch. The slogan for the Romney bank will be the slightly more supportive sounding “Bank on Romney.” But McGinnis is not giving any endorsements.
“I’m not in it for the politics,” McGinnis intoned in plainspoken cowboy fashion. “I’m in it to pay my mortgage.”