Michigan vendor predicts elections one pin at a time

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

King of Prussia, Pa. – When it comes to predicting presidential campaigns, Ken Hosner of Kalamazoo has his own unique polling system: Political buttons.

Ken and Cathy Hosner of Kalamazoo-based Political Americana sell political pins at conventions across the country.

Hosner, along with his wife, Cathy, is the owner of Kalamazoo-based Political Americana, which sells campaign buttons, canes, posters and bandanas. He has been to 17 national conventions since 1968 and is set up at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

Based on sales, Hosner can often tell who is going to win the presidency. In 2008, for example, pins for then-Democratic U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois far outsold those supporting GOP nominee and U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“It was clear Obama was going to run away with it,” said Hosner, who is selling his pins at the same suburban Philadelphia hotel where the Michigan and Minnesota delegations are staying.

Hosner started collecting political pins in 1968 while he was a student at Western Michigan University. He and Cathy, who were dating at the time, went to an antique shop and saw some old political pins. Cathy suggested Ken, who was studying to be a history teacher, buy them.

“She said, ‘You can show the kids one day,” remembers Hosner, who bought a Landon-Knox sunflower pin, a William McKinley pin, and one for Calvin Coolidge.

That was the beginning of what has become a vast — and valuable — collection. Why does Hosner, who retired from teaching eighth grade in 1997, do it?

Political pins abound at this year’s Democratic National Convention.

“I’m a collector,” he said. “I found out early on there was a need for it. The public loves it.”

This year, one of Hosner’s hottest pins has been a cheeky teal button with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s photo on it and the words, “B---- get s--- done.” Hosner heard a friend use that phrase when it hit him: That would make a great pin.

He called a friend who lives in West Bloomfield Township and designs most of his pins to create something. He ordered 200. Within an hour at the recent Indiana Democratic State convention, Hosner sold out of them.

Other pins this year include a Rosie the Riveter pin, a Looney Tunes pin with GOP nominee Donald Trump’s image in the middle and a blue pin with Clinton’s portrait and the words, “A Woman’s Place is in the Oval Office.”

Hosner, who charges $5 for two buttons or $10 for five buttons, said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders pin sales have slowed down tremendously in the last few weeks with Clinton pins outselling them.

“Pins are a great indicator,” he said.

And if he could predict this year’s winner in November, Hosner, who also was at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week but only for a day, has one word: “Hillary.”