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South Carolina political campaigning goes to the dogs

CHARLESTON (AP) — In some ways, political campaigning has gone to the dogs in South Carolina.

Boots McMaster, a bulldog with no chance of being elected, is a well-known political face this campaign season. Then there are the miniature schnauzers Ace and Angel Ervin and a yellow lab with the iconic South Carolina political name of Strom.

With almost half of American households owning dogs, a number of South Carolina politicians are featuring their dogs — but nary a cat — in ads, on websites and on Facebook pages.

The best-known seems to be Boots, the bulldog who appears with Republican Henry McMaster in his television ads as he runs for lieutenant governor. McMaster introduces Boots as the family watchdog while adding, “I’m proud of my record as South Carolina’s watchdog.”

On his campaign website, there’s a link directly to the Boots ad in the shape of a dog tag. And for a $100 contribution one can get a picture of the candidate and Boots “signed” by both.

When independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin ran his first newspaper ads last month, they featured a picture of Ervin and his wife, Kathryn, holding their schnauzers Ace and Angel. Republican Hugh Weathers, seeking another term as agriculture commissioner, is on his website in a photo with his wife, Blanche, holding their springer spaniels, Hub and Baby Girl.

And a cursory check shows a number candidates for the state House of Representatives have pictures of their pet dogs on web or Facebook sites. They include Charleston state Rep. Chip Limehouse with a family picture with their pet dog, Strom.

Americans have long been fascinated by the dogs of political leaders. It was news last year when President Obama’s family adopted their second Portuguese water dog, Sunny. In George W. Bush’s administration, First Dog Barney bit a reporter.

There was Richard Nixon’s cocker spaniel Checkers and, of course, Fala, the black Scottish terrier who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s companion in the final years life and who is immortalized in sculpture at the FDR Memorial in Washington.

The Humane Society of the United States reports that pet ownership has tripled in the past four decades and now 47 percent of American households have at least one dog.

“Dogs are more a part of our culture than in the past and using a dog in an ad kind of humanizes and lets the voter into the family a little bit more,” said Gibbs Knotts, a political scientist at College of Charleston.

Don’t tell this to Boots, but ads with dogs, while useful in introducing a candidate to the voters, may not be that effective in getting votes.

“The types of ads that tend to be more effective are the ads where they really contrast a candidate’s positions with the opposition,” Kotts said. “Negative ads, although we although we talk about not liking them, tend to work.”

Why no cats in the ads?

“I would think cats have more negatives,” Knotts said. “There are a lot of cat lovers out there, but some people really don’t like cats.”

Cats come across as too independent. Many dogs, he said, have a reputation as working dogs and, by extension, may indicate the candidate will work whether as a watchdog or in some other role for the voters.

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