Life

The Dog Primary

Which candidate is best exploiting their canine for political gain?

A dog looking presidential in a suit and tie
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

From Checkers to Marlon Bundo, pets have long been used as political props. But the current election cycle is notably furry, even by the standards of recent history. This prompts an important question: Which candidate is winning the dog primary?

Dog: Major
Breed: German shepherd
Owner: Joe Biden
Notable public appearance: On “National Cat Day,” Biden tweeted a picture of himself with Major and pointed out that President Donald Trump’s petlessness “says a lot” about him. Last week, Biden’s campaign sent out an email with the subject line “look at this dog.” Those who clicked it open saw the aforementioned picture of Biden and Major with a request to “chip in $5 before time runs out.”

Dogs: Truman and Buddy
Breed: A beagle-Labrador mix (Truman) and “one-eyed puggle on a weight-loss journey” (Buddy)
Owner: Pete Buttigieg
Notable public appearance: Truman and Buddy have their own Twitter account that tweets in the dogs’ own voices, mostly in all caps, with Lizzo jokes and lines like “ITS TIME TO PUT A PUGGLE IN THE WHITE HOUSE.” The dogs have almost 90,000 followers. The campaign sells T-shirts and buttons reading “Pete & Chasten & Buddy & Truman.” Buttigieg also promoted a short video about them on “International Dog Day” over the summer summer. He says in the video that it took Buddy about a year to trust him, suggesting the dog might have something in common with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Dog: None—yet
Breed: See above
Owner: Cory Booker
Notable public appearance: Booker doesn’t have a dog yet but promised a little boy at a campaign event that he will get one if he wins the presidency. Significantly, the boy lives in Iowa.

Dog: Artemis
Breed: Labrador retriever
Owner: Beto O’Rourke
Notable public appearance: Artemis may have helped with Beto’s media coverage, as he once licked the knuckles of a New Yorker reporter and nuzzled the leg of a Houston Chronicle columnist. “O’Rourke’s beautiful black dog, Artemis, keeps putting her paw on my knee,” an American Prospect writer observed in March, “and I briefly wonder if she’s been trained to do that with journalists.” Artemis also appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair with O’Rourke in March, photographed by Annie Leibovitz. The dog briefly captivated the internet with his “mournful” mien, which presumably came in handy when O’Rourke dropped out eight months later.

Dogs: Many
Breed: Any/all
Owners: People around Kamala Harris
Notable public appearance: Harris doesn’t have her own dog, but she likes to post about canines in her orbit. In April, she tweeted pictures of four “paw-licy advisors” who regularly visit her Senate office. Owning a dog is hard when you have a full-time job and a full-time presidential campaign. On the other hand, voters love animal pictures. Harris’ sensible solution is to pet cute animals, post about them, and then return them to their owners.

Dog: Bailey
Breed: Golden retriever
Owner: Elizabeth Warren
Notable public appearance: Where hasn’t Bailey appeared? The Massachusetts senator introduced her new pet on Instagram in summer 2018, trotted him out when she announced her exploratory committee, produced a video about him when she formally announced her candidacy in the spring, and often brings him to New Hampshire campaign stops. In her Twitter bio, the senator describes herself as Bailey’s “mom.” The Warren campaign has sent text alerts “from” Bailey, outfitted the dog with its own “Bailey Cam,” sold “Bailey for First Dog” handkerchiefs, and sent an email to supporters with the subject line “This email is just a bunch of pictures of Bailey.” In Iowa earlier this month, Warren stroked the leg of a 25-foot-tall inflatable Bailey balloon as crowd chanted “big structural Bailey,” which has, I’m sorry to report, become something of a catchphrase.

Elizabeth Warren's pet dog, Bailey.
Elizabeth Warren’s pet dog, Bailey, sits and enjoys a treat as Warren addresses an event at Manchester Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Jan. 12.
Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

Who is winning the dog primary? There’s no point in dragging out the suspense any longer. The winner is Bailey. It’s 100 percent Bailey, no competition. By now, Bailey is arguably more popular, not to mention recognizable, than Bruce Mann—you know, Warren’s husband of 39 years? The race between humans may have no clear front-runner, but the dog primary is over.

“Bailey is a very good boy to have on the campaign trail,” a representative for the Warren campaign, Alexis Krieg, said in a statement. “He frequently travels with Elizabeth and Bruce to New Hampshire, where he poses for selfies with voters and volunteers after events. He’s also a hit in our Boston headquarters, getting lots of big, structural belly rubs from our team.” When I asked how many donations the “bunch of pictures of Bailey” email brought in, the campaign declined to answer. But the quote about Bailey being a good boy is cute, so I put it in this story anyway. Dogs really do come in handy on the campaign trail. Good boy, Bailey!