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CHICAGO – They ride the streets in pickups and cars old enough to suggest a welder or a store clerk is behind the wheel. Cameras follow and, if the drivers have their way, so will votes.
Vehicular stagecraft is on the road again as office-seekers deploy high-mileage autos meant to confer Main Street authenticity. The Fords, Chevrolets and Jeeps are rolling protection against charges of elitism.
Tom Wolf, a millionaire businessman who in May won the Democratic nomination for Pennsylvania governor, delivered his victory speech in a baseball stadium after driving his 2006 Jeep from the outfield to home plate, adding a few hundred feet to its 80,000 miles.
"He's not going to convince me that he's not well-funded," said Michael Markland, 43, who lives in the Philadelphia suburb of Springfield Township. "It doesn't matter to me if he's driving a Jeep or a BMW or a Lexus."
The craze for modest wheels began after Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown piloted a GMC truck to victory in a Massachusetts special election in 2010.
In Illinois, Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, who owns nine homes and earned $53 million in 2012, "still drives a 20-year-old camper van," his gubernatorial campaign website says.
Alabama State Rep. Steve Hurst, R, who runs a pawnshop and fireworks store in Talladega, faced a challenge in the June 3 primary. He drove his district in a pickup truck and he won.
How can a car help a politician? "The first rule is 'Buy American,' " said Olga Vicari, general sales manager at Bob Rohrman Schaumburg Ford, in a western Chicago suburb.
The next rule: "Nothing fancy-schmancy."
Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican U.S. Senate nominee, this year is featured in a campaign video riding a Harley to a gun range. Former congressman Tom Tancredo promotes his Republican candidacy for governor by a riding a Harley around Colorado without a helmet. Mike Kopp, Tancredo's opponent in the June 24 primary, bicycled 436 miles in six days.