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In Washington, Halloween Costumes Unmask Our Inner Political Goblins

By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008

You can bet that Joe the Plumber will show up on your doorstep tonight. So, too, will a pig wearing lipstick. Maybe even "that one."

In the aftermath of a news cycle that has provided so much quirky fodder, and just days before the nation picks a new president, this Halloween is shaping up to be unusually political.

Many in the region, of course, are embracing the popular personas: Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin (either with an up-do or down-do; Neiman Marcus get-up: optional); former radical William Ayers; bankrupt siblings named Lehman; and an elite media journalist.

Additionally, at least one Washington family is decking out its real estate with political flair: The lawn of doctor Ben Stearn and lobbyist Brian Branton's federal style District home, across the street from the Phillips Collection, is filled with fake tombstones, most which are emblazoned with mocking comments targeting Republicans, such as: "MAVERICK, MAVERICK, MAVERICK" and "BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA."

Even dogs in dog-loving Alexandria last night were preparing for the Hotel Monaco's annual (brace yourself) "Howloween" costume contest and its new (brace yourself again) "Political Pooch" category.

It's all a sport no doubt played out across the land. But in Washington, especially days before a presidential election, politically flavored Halloweens seem to be carried out with a certain delicacy or, at the very least, communal zeal.

David Weigel, 27, an associate editor at the libertarian Reason magazine, was expecting to attend a Halloween happy hour last night by going out not merely as Joe the Plumber, the nickname of Joe Wurzelbacher, the Ohio plumber-turned-Republican campaign sidekick-turned-Republican campaign slogan.

Instead, Weigel was expecting to go out last night in a costume-within-a-costume: He would be Joe the Plumber dressing up as Ashley Todd. She's the college-age McCain campaign volunteer who was arrested last week for filing a false police report about being attacked by someone who supposedly scrawled a backward "B" (for "Barack") on her face.

"I'll get a bald hat. I'll bring a plunger," Weigel said this week. "And I'll wear a McCain sweat shirt with a nice perfect 'B' drawn using the mirror."

Some of the region's costume stores this week reported rushed buyers swooning for masks and pig noses, in homage to the controversial phrase "lipstick on a pig" used by Obama and the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain. People don't need a costume store for some things. They can, for instance, write on a name tag the moniker That One, a nod to McCain's reference to Obama during a presidential debate.

In what could be evidence that presidential candidates ought to choose their running mates earlier in the campaign, the stores' managers said there was not enough time before Halloween for their manufacturers to produce and distribute traditional latex masks of Palin and the Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joseph Biden.

At Total Fright's store in Ballston, manager Mark Caltagirone said the company's Web site had been offering Palin paper masks, but the supply was quickly depleted. Some sought out masks for "first dude" Todd Palin, but to no avail. "We had some Mitt Romneys; those were taken last," Caltagirone said of the former Massachusetts governor who lost the Republican presidential primary. "We have the North Korea leader Kim Jong Il. I have three of him."

At Capitol Hill's Backstage, manager Sandra Duraes said customers have been seeking out "Freddie Macs" (an ensemble with Monopoly money, top hats and gloves) and Obama masks accompanied by large ears. Some of the hottest items were Palin wigs: the $19.95 down-do and the $29.95 up-do, which requires a half-hour of prepping and styling by Backstage staff members. "But right now, we're too busy to style the wig while someone waits," Duraes said.

("Entertainment Tonight," for what it's worth, is reporting that in its two-part interview with the Alaska governor, airing last night and tonight, anchor Mary Hart tells Palin that her masks are "outselling" other Halloween masks, and Palin replies: "Oh, that's kind of bizarre!")

Unsurprisingly, people dress up as cultural or political figures whom they otherwise deride. James Poulos, 29, a self-described likely McCain voter who works at a social networking/magazine Web site in Alexandria, picked out his apparel carefully: a red flannel shirt, a gray hooded sweat shirt, a handlebar moustache and a sign dangling around the neck that reads: CHGO P.D. 27 AUG. 68 IR 213710.

Hint: Poulos is dressing up as a Chicago professor . . . who was once the co-founder of a group called Weather Underground . . . who has served on a school reform board with Obama.

"It's a social experiment," Poulos said of his costume. "If the McCain campaign talked about Bill Ayers to make a big public impression, then my costume should be relatively obvious. If not, people will be like, 'Oh, he's from [the television show] 'My Name is Earl.' "

His colleague Peter Suderman is going for something more obvious: a John McCain mask, cowboy hat and an inflatable bull worn around his waist and legs. The contraption was made in China. "Yea, for globalization," Suderman said (in a party-neutral voice) one day at his office sporting the outfit.

Tonight, Emily Robichaux, 25, a program officer for a nonprofit group and self-described liberal, is having a party at her Adams Morgan apartment. She first considered being Abraham Lincoln. Then she switched to Joe the Plumber. But then, thinking she didn't want to be the umpteenth person toting a plunger all night, Robichaux settled on the Statue of Liberty.

"It would be a commentary on our immigration policy," she said, squarely pegging herself as only a Washingtonian can on Halloween. "I thought about doing something with some statistics about immigration and visa policy. It's kind of a long story."

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