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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Battle of Fuzzy, Fluid Mascots

LOS ANGELES -- In what could be the weirdest election since California's recall race, a hyperactive bunny, a steroid-pumped clean freak, a giggling blob of dough and 23 other product mascots are campaigning to become the United States' favorite advertising icon.

The battle of the mascots began earlier this month in New York. After posing for TV news crews and listening to former Mayor Ed Koch give pointers on how to kiss babies and shake hands, a herd of mascots -- including Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, Kool-Aid Man and the Pillsbury Doughboy -- invaded the streets to hustle votes.

Mr. Peanut passed out fliers saying, "At least this candidate freely admits that he's a nut." Miss Chiquita, referring to herself as the "First Lady of Fruit," sang her banana jingle in Japanese and told reporters she was worried about all the chemicals inside rival candidate Mr. Clean. And the Michelin Man suffered a wardrobe malfunction -- his costume deflated -- and was whisked from the scene for repairs.

The mascot election, now under way on the Internet, is being sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies as a gimmick to promote its September convention.

The top five vote-getters will be immortalized in concrete on Madison Avenue's new Advertising Walk of Fame. Sadly, the sidewalk markers won't include handprints, an option that would have been amusing if the Jolly Green Giant were a winner.

Some of the mascots are taking the election extremely seriously. Mr. Clean has put together the most elaborate campaign platform. On education, for instance, he supports letting children draw on any surface they want. "If we limit their creativity, there would be no crayon marks on the walls to remove with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser," he explained.

Clean, a muscle-bound Cincinnati native whose little-known first name is Veritably, has also been endorsed by the Care Bears. "A vote for me is a vote for a spot-free future," he said in a telephone interview. He also claimed he could whip the Jolly Green Giant in an arm-wrestling match.

In contrast, McGruff the Crime Dog, like fellow public-service candidates Smokey Bear and the Crash Test Dummies, is running as a single-issue candidate. The trench coat-wearing canine's sole promise is to "take a bite out of crime."

Nevertheless, on the campaign trail, McGruff has an unusual advantage over his rivals. Whereas there is only one Ronald McDonald, two M&M characters and three California Raisins, there are thousands of McGruffs. Campaign strategists claim to have stockpiled 2,000 McGruff costumes and thousands of McGruff puppets nationwide.

However, the dog's candidacy could be derailed by concerns over his age. Born in 1980, he is 24 years old, which is 168 in human years.

Then again, McGruff isn't the only candidate with a skeleton in his closet. The original Miss Chiquita was drawn in 1944 by the same artist who is responsible for "Hagar the Horrible." And Kool-Aid Man has crashed through so many brick walls when summoned by thirsty youngsters that medical experts believe he might have sustained permanent neurological damage.

So far, however, the mascot campaign has produced very little mudslinging. That's partly because only a handful of icons possess the ability to speak. Or, if they do talk, their vocabulary is extremely limited.

"Our campaign is about actions, not words," said Al Johnson, chief strategist for the AFLAC duck's election effort. "Well, maybe one word: AFLAAAAC!"

Of the 26 mascots on the ballot, the 4-year-old fowl is the youngest. "He's a duck of the 21st century, not one of those stodgy old icons that have been around for decades," Johnson said. "He's web-savvy, he champions the underduck, and he knows bills and how to get them through."

Not everyone on the ballot is actively canvassing precincts. Handlers for the Merrill Lynch bull, Morton Salt Girl, Speedy Alka-Seltzer and Coppertone Girl said their icons were sitting out the campaign.

Many of the candidates were reluctant to discuss their personal lives. Mr. Clean declined to say whether there was a Mrs. Clean, but did mention that he is "in the market for a partner in grime."

Dapper Mr. Peanut's corporate masters said their 88-year-old icon is single but hastened to add: "He is interested in women." They also said he should be elected because "he's already dressed for the ceremony."