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T-shirt, bumper-sticker designers looking for the last laugh

WASHINGTON _It isn't over for Dick Cheney just yet. Now come the bumper stickers and T-shirts.

Try typing "Cheney shooting" into a few search engines. You'll see everything from coffee mugs to sweatshirts taking a swipe at the VP's unfortunate quail hunt.

There's the popular "I'd rather hunt with Dick Cheney than ride with Ted Kennedy" bumper sticker, yours for $3.49. Or the "Deadeye Dick's Gun Club" T-shirt, complete with fake bulletholes, for $18.99.

Amateur artists, aided by illustration software and the Internet, are hitting eBay and CafePress.com, the biggest online instant T-shirt company, with scores of punchline products keyed to the vice president. They're trying to catch the wave of interest in "Quailgate," as one tee dubs it, before it expires.

Entrants try to:

_ Grab laughs: "I went hunting with the veep, and I all got was shot."

_ Make a political jab: "Cheney can't find Bin Laden, but it's open season for elderly lawyers."

_ Coin a catchphrase: "Duck, it's Dick!" and "Ready, Fire, Aim!"

_ Earn a quick buck off of a popular joke: "Cheney's got a (gun)"

"It's pretty amazing, actually," said Marc Cowlin, spokesman for CafePress.com, which makes shirts and other products from designs created and sold by their clients. He predicted hot sales for Cheney items for another week to 10 days.

Cowlin's firm's sales of politically themed goods are up 72 percent since last Sunday, when the White House acknowledged that Cheney had accidentally hit a fellow quail hunter on a ranch in southeastern Texas. Currently, CafePress has more than 800 Cheney-themed items in production.

Cowlin wouldn't discuss the terms of the company's business deals, beyond explaining that they charge a base price for each shirt, mug and decal and expect clients to add a premium to that price to make some money. The products they've designed and commissioned are only made after a shopper orders them, so there's no inventory to worry about.

Some designers aren't in it for the money. Connie Hughes, 50, of Waco, Texas, for example, is offering ten listings on eBay just to make a political point. It depicts a baffled Cheney hunting by a pond, where a duck calls the VP "a lame duck."

"It's a way to make a public statement. Quite honestly," said Hughes, "I couldn't care less if any of them sold. We wouldn't want to profit off of someone else's ill fortune."

She also tried to be tasteful, holding off her mockery until it was clear that Cheney's 78-year-old victim, Harry Whittington, was OK.

News stories often spark shirt and sticker sales. The biggest was Sept. 11, 2001, which begat slogans, shirts and stickers for six months. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan bred lots of troop support material. Last summer produced another wave when the romance between actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes became hot news. Among the most popular items, in response to Cruise's seemingly over-the-top behavior, were "Free Katie" tees.

David Beauzley, 37, of Ashton City, Tenn., an eBay seller of Cheneywear, said he's in for the fun of it.

"There's nothing wrong with making a quick buck, but I want to make people laugh. I'm sure even Dick Cheney would look at them and laugh about it," Beauzley said.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): CHENEY-TSHIRTS

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