MANCHESTER, N.H. – The sweater vest, once the item of choice for dorky teachers and old men, has become an important symbol this primary season, seeing a resurgence on the torso of Rick Santorum, whose surprise near-win in the Iowa caucuses last week put him, and his sweater vest, front and center.
But at the former Pennsylvania senator’s election night party Tuesday, a surprisingly small number of sweater vests were visible. The Daily Caller spotted just eleven of Santorum’s signature clothing items, worn by three supporters, six or seven staffers and campaign consultants, and one reporter. Santorum himself was not wearing one, having opted for a suit on the occasion of his disappointing fifth-place finish. Only one sweater vest was not a solid color: an argyle specimen sported by a middle-aged* supporter.
Zach Capobianco, an 18-year-old who will be voting in his first presidential election this year, sported a solid navy blue vest. For him, he said, the fashion choice was about “the sweater vest connection.”
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to go [to the election night party], I definitely want to support him, and I have the sweater vest, so why not wear it?’ I mean, I figured, give him that extra oomph of support, like I’m with him in spirit, like the sweater vest connection,” Capobianco explained. He said he felt a real connection with the candidate, whom he finds inspiring.
“The sweater vest is sort of a cool, not gimmicky little thing, but something that just sort of gives you that extra — ‘fear the vest,’ like they have on Facebook there. I think the sweater vest thing is just, like, brothers in arms,” he told TheDC.
But Santorum is certainly not the first, or only, person on the political scene to sport a sweater vest. Some people were already on the bandwagon before it was cool.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Dan Majors said he has been “wearing them forever.” But since he headed up to New Hampshire to cover Santorum’s campaign, his affinity for the candidate’s sartorial distinction has become the subject of teasing from his co-workers.
Majors wore a black sweater vest Tuesday evening.
“I’ve been wearing them for 20 years, and it’s Rick’s comfort clothing,” said former State Representative Bill Cahill, a co-chair of Santorum’s New Hampshire campaign. “I wear it ‘cause it’s comfortable. I just like them. I’m a golfer, I like them on the golf course. I like them around the house.”
Tuesday night, Cahill sported a green sweater vest.
Other members of the Santorum campaign staff have taken notice of the trend and altered their style accordingly.
“Wednesday morning, the morning after the Iowa caucus — most people were up ‘til 3 watching it — we all went back to our hotel, took an hour nap, showered, shaved, got dressed, got back to the headquarters about 7:30 in the morning,” Cahill recounted.
“And there’s four of us, four guys from different parts of the state, and our campaign manager Mike Biundo, and we’re all wearing argyle sweater vests. And we’re all sipping coffee, and we all look at each other … and go, ‘what is this, a cult?’”
“I think a lot of people on the campaign have sort of leaned towards … if they don’t own one or two, at least buying one to wear around the campaign,” Cahill told TheDC.
Santorum is helping them out with what Cahill called “the Rick Santorum line by Joseph A. Bank,” a navy sweater vest with a small Santorum logo. The campaign was giving them away to anyone who donated over $100 before Tuesday.
At least six or seven staffers and consultants donned vests for Tuesday’s festivities. Communications director Matt Beynon wore one under his jacket. Direct mail consultants Matt Schenk, Colin Burkhalter and Mark Clark cut impressive figures sitting around a table in their matching sweater vests.
“We’re big supporters of Rick’s and working with the campaign, and so we thought it was a good way to support him, and it’s a pretty visible sign of supporting Rick,” explained Schenk. “And when you’re around voters like this it’s a pretty visible sign of his campaign, so we’re just happy to support him like that.”
Burkhalter lamented that Santorum’s fondness for the nerdy-looking item was attracting so much attention while other candidates’ fashion choices skated by without notice.
“No one’s been covering Mitt Romney … he’s been wearing a Mr. Rogers sweater throughout the campaign,” Burkhalter said.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen that. That’s his casual look — like the light gray, old man sweater. Ill-fitting, of course.”
*The wearer of the argyle sweater is far more youthful – both in appearance and actual age – than the original language of the article implied.
Follow Alexis on Twitter