Raygun: The Liberal Pizza Ranch?

Posted: November 17, 2015 | By: Iowa Caucus Project Staff Tagged: Blog

Walk into the iconic East Village T-shirt store, Raygun, and you’ll find several satirical shirts commenting on topics such as the Starbucks red cup controversy, Sharia law, to Iowa sports. Mike Draper founded Raygun in 2005. Draper, originally from Van Meter, attended the University of Pennsylvania with a major in history. By getting a start selling “Not Penn State” shirts in college, Draper made the move back to Des Moines to open Raygun.

The caucus collection at Raygun involves several T-shirts with phrases including, “Iowa, for some reason you have to come here to be President,” “Rock out with your caucus out,” and “Iowa: small town charm, big time caucus.

The shirts keep coming at Raygun Photo by Skylar Borchardt

The shirts keep coming at Raygun in East Village. Photo by Skylar Borchardt.

The 2016 presidential election is the third round of caucuses for Raygun, and Draper says “it gets better every time.” Draper used the term “Dork Olympics” to describe the caucuses in general. The Raygun creative team consists of himself and two other staffers who brainstorm concepts for new caucus items. I can’t help but think of a Saturday Night Live writer’s room style meeting, coming up with satirical political one-liners. The newest addition to purchase are a series of caucus buttons with phrases such as “I support the one who has no chance in the general”; “I’ll only support the candidate Katy Perry supports.”(a play on Katy Perry headlining a Hillary Clinton rally prior to the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner) and Draper’s favorite “Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi.”

Caucus Buttons Photo by Skylar Borchardt

Caucus buttons festoon a mannequin. Photo by Skylar Borchardt.

“I enjoy it because it isn’t an attack at any specific party or candidate; it is just a city. My favorite pieces are ones where it is hard to parse who the joke is about,” Draper said.

Beginning with the 2008 Iowa caucuses no candidate has ever visited the store (perhaps because it is not the typical Iowa photograph of a farm or diner), but “all staffers and out-of-town journalists stop by to get something for their time in Iowa”

Out of Town Media Section at Raygun Photo by Skylar Borchardt

The Out-of-Town Media Section at Raygun. Photo by Skylar Borchardt.

Draper believes. With a clear leaning to the left of the political spectrum, Raygun has created shirts to regularly support various issue areas Draper sees as important, especially Planned Parenthood. “My goal is to become somewhat of a liberal Pizza Ranch” Draper said, playing on the Republican Pizza Ranch circuit. It is clear Draper supports a more Democratic agenda but not a specific candidate. The store has never endorsed a candidate, in fact the newest shirt with Bernie Sanders’ face plastered all over it is “just ironic that a crazy old man can be energizing such a young demographic.” The store itself maintains a socially conscious atmosphere, all the shirts are American made, the paper is printed at a union facility, and Raygun pays higher than the minimum wage, which is sure impressive considering it employs 60 people and turns $5 million in sales.

Raygun will continue to produce caucus items to sell on the “out-of-town media” section of the store. The goal is to produce relevant items as well as showing even “Iowans are baffled as to why the caucuses are so important to politicians.” Draper told of his favorite experience with a candidate: having John Kasich given the “Iowa: for some reason you have to come here to be President” shirt and Kasich replied “Huh, yeah, I guess I do.” Draper is just as surprised but enjoys the process and creativity it inspires.

IMG_1494Borchardt is a junior studying political science and law, politics, and society from Litchfield, Minnesota. This summer he interned in the office of U.S. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and was the recipient of the Harkin Institute D.C. Experience Scholarship. He enjoys politics, Minnesota sports and playing his guitar. Follow him on Twitter.