US elections: This Portland doughnut shop is Feeling the Bern

Voodoo Doughnut created a Bernie Sanders-themed treat ahead of the presidential primary in Oregon, where the Vermont Senator hopes to continue his winning streak

Tim Walker
Portland, Oregon
Tuesday 17 May 2016 18:43 BST
Voodoo Doughnut is famous for outlandish snacks including the Voodoo Doll Doughnut and the Maple Bacon Bar
Voodoo Doughnut is famous for outlandish snacks including the Voodoo Doll Doughnut and the Maple Bacon Bar

By 10am on Monday, the queue already stretches out the door at Voodoo Doughnut in downtown Portland. An unlikely tourist attraction, this 24-hour doughnut shop is world famous for outlandish snacks including the Voodoo Doll Doughnut, the Maple Bacon Bar and the Cock-and-Balls: a chocolate-iced specimen shaped like male genitalia and filled with Bavarian cream.

Voodoo routinely cooks up topical confectionery to pay tribute to fallen pop culture icons such as David Bowie and Prince – in whose honour it recently made a special “Raspberry Beret” doughnut. Ahead of this week’s Oregon primary, the shop also iced its very first explicitly political doughnuts, in support of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders-based sugary snacks, made by Portland's Voodoo Doughnut

While most people in liberal Portland greeted the Bernie-based treats warmly, some angrily insisted they would never darken the shop's door again. “Trump supporters like doughnuts, too,” said Voodoo’s owner, Richard “Tres” Shannon. “I’d love to do a Donald Trump doughnut with flames and devil eyes, but I don’t want to alienate an entire group of people!”

On Tuesday, as Oregon voters go to the polls, Mr Shannon said Voodoo would probably make a Bernie doughnut and a Hillary Clinton doughnut, in the interests of balance. The political doughnuts are for the shop’s display only, not for sale – although Mr Shannon did deliver a box to Sanders campaign staff when the Vermont Senator held a rally in Portland in March.

Mr Shannon, who co-founded Voodoo with his friend Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson in 2003, has personal experience of political campaigning: he ran for Mayor of Portland in 1994, coming fourth in a field of 12. He blamed the loss on his rivals’ higher profiles and deeper pockets – and that means he empathises with Mr Sanders. “The press is just ‘Hillary, Hillary, Hillary,’” he said.

“One of the things that pissed me off [when I ran for mayor] was that I didn’t even get invited to some events. There were only a handful of things to which all the candidates got invited. They had the same problem with the Republican debates this year. If I had raised as much money as [the frontrunners], I would have won.”

Known in his neighbourhood by the unofficial title “Mayor of Old Town”, Mr Shannon now hosts a doughnut-eating contest for mayoral hopefuls every electoral cycle. The latest such contest took place on Friday, with the candidates competing to see who could eat the most doughnuts in the four minutes it takes to play Alice Cooper’s 1972 satirical campaign anthem, “Elected”.

Voodoo Doughnuts founder Tres Shannon (left) with mayoral doughnut-eating contest winner Sean Davis (centre)

The winner, US Army veteran Sean Davis, is at around one per cent in the opinion polls. “No one who won the doughnut eating contest has ever gone on to win the mayoral contest,” Mr Shannon said. “But it’s a nice opportunity for people to see all the candidates, and we invite them all because there’s so many events that only invite the frontrunners.”

Voodoo now has outposts in Eugene, Denver and Austin, and plans to open its first Los Angeles shop at Universal Studios later this year. As a local dignitary, Mr Shannon was invited to meet Mr Sanders when the progressive Senator passed through Portland. “I thought he was a good listener,” he said. “Whether he’d be the best President of the United States, I’ve no idea.”

Mr Sanders is hoping to add to his recent string of primary victories with another underdog win in Oregon, despite lagging five points behind Hillary Clinton in a recent poll. The Beaver State’s Democratic primary is closed to all but registered Democrats; Mr Sanders has so far won only in open contests, with the support of independent voters.

However, the Sanders campaign launched a major registration drive before Oregon’s 26 April deadline, and some 130,000 people have reportedly switched their party affiliation to the Democrats in order to take part in the primary. Oregon has 73 Democratic delegates, distributed proportionately. Ms Clinton remains almost 300 pledged delegates ahead overall, not to mention her additional, overwhelming lead among the party's so-called "super-delegates".

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