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Sanford takes a ribbing in T-shirts

Almost as soon as Gov. Mark Sanford confessed to his affair with an Argentine woman, eager entrepreneurs started cranking out T-shirts.

The episode was just too ripe for jokes.

First, the governor was reported missing.

The T-shirt? A milk carton with Sanford's picture and the slogan "Have you seen this governor?"

Then, his office released the Appalachian Trail excuse.

The T-shirt? "Tell my wife I'm hiking with Gov. Sanford."

Next came the confession.

The T-shirt? A photo of Sanford with the words "Luv Guv" printed underneath.

Finally, Sanford gave a soul-baring interview.

The T-shirt? A simple quote: "This was a whole lot more than a simple affair. This was a love story." - Mark Sanford.

A month later, though, the T-shirt sales have fallen flat. For some shirt makers, the point is getting attention instead of making a big profit.

Traeger Mechling, owner of Graph-itti, on Rosewood Drive, often creates T-shirts to mark South Carolina's political scandals, such as former State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel's downfall on cocaine charges.

"It's just to knock the politicians and get people's attention," Mechling said.

The key to capitalizing on political scandals is speed, Mechling said.

"Normally, the first shirt out wins, no matter what it looks like," he said.

Within hours of Sanford's scandal hitting the headlines, Mechling and his staff brainstormed a design and fired up the presses.

Graph-itti sells two $10 versions: One mocks Sanford's alleged trip to the Appalachian Trail. The other picks on his opposition to the federal stimulus plan.

It reads: "Sanford Stimulus Package" followed by a checklist with "Obama," "Pork Spending," "Wife" and "Hot Argentinian."

You can probably guess which one has the check mark beside it.

"I even kind of supported the guy, but I am an equal opportunity offender," Mechling said.

Shirts mocking politicians hardly turn a profit. But they grab attention, he said.

In 2007, Mechling sold T-shirts after then State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel was arrested on cocaine charges.

Those shirts sold better than the Sanford offerings, he said. He thinks it's because the Ravenel design was more clever. Plus, the shop closes the week of July 4, when Sanford's scandal was new.

Tim Kelly, co-editor of the Indigo Journal political blog, created T-shirts after the Sanford scandal.

They read: "My governor went to Argentina and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

They sell on Cafe Press, a Web site where anyone can create and sell T-shirts, mugs, hats and other paraphernalia. The Web site keeps a chunk of the sales.

Cafe Press has dozens of products spoofing Sanford.

Kelly has sold nine shirts and earned $15. That's just enough money to pay one month of expenses for his Web site's online hosting fees.

Kelly isn't sure who bought the shirts, but his Cafe Press accounts show buyers from South Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

"It's just another way to promote the blog," he said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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