Update: Mirlande Wilson told WRC-TV in Washington Thursday that she has lost her ticket.
If you've been following the bizarre story about the Baltimore woman who claims she may have won a piece of the Mega Millions record-breaking $656 million jackpot, you may have noticed the peculiar hat Mirlande Wilson wore to her news conference this week -- the one with “Sweet Swine Pork Rinds” stitched across the front.
After Wilson's picture was broadcast by The Baltimore Sun and news organizations across the country, a reader from Chicago wrote in to suggest that Wilson and her cap were part of a political stunt designed to smear Mitt Romney, the GOP frontrunner for president. See, when you Google "Sweet Swine Pork Rinds" your first hit is for an anti-Romney site.
We did some Internet research and found the domain www.SweetSwinePorkRinds.com is owned by Scott Crider, an Alabama man who says he is indeed a Romney opponent. But he says he didn't register that site until after he saw Wilson and her hat on Fox News. Last night, he started selling his own version of the cap, though.
Crider, an online marketing and social media consultant, said he recognized the potential for an Internet spark immediately when Shepard Smith mentioned Wilson's curious hat.
He jumped online, searched domain names and for $9.99 he claimed ownership of SweetSwinePorkRinds.com. He used the site to link to his anti-Romney blog, where he promotes animal rights.
In less than 24 hours, Crider said he banked some 6,500 visits to the Sweet Swine site and clicks to his Dogs Against Romney blog, which he started in 2007 after he read a Boston Globe article about the former Massachusetts governor. The story reported that in 1983 Romney caged his family dog, Seamus, an Irish setter, and strapped the dog's pet carrier atop his station wagon for a long trip.
We reached out to Romney’s campaign, but officials had no response.
Meanwhile, Wilson – the 37-year-old Baltimore woman at the center of a media spectacle over the winning ticket she claims to have and says she stashed at a Milford Mill McDonald’s for safe keeping – answered her phone and took a few questions. (It was an improvement over a press conference Wednesday at which she sat silently, except to take a brief cell phone call.)
Baltimore Sun: "Where did you get your hat?"
Wilson: “I don’t remember.” She offered to check the label, shouted for someone nearby to grab it and reported back that the manufacturer is Zephyr, which also goes by the name Z Hat.
The Sun: “How are you feeling?”
MW: “I am a little bit stressed out."
The Sun: “When will you cash in your ticket?
MW: “I am not ready for that.”
On that note, Wilson quickly ended the conversation. She said she is not a plant from the anti-Romney camp.
Crider denies working on behalf of Romney’s political opponents. He says the Globe article touched a nerve back when Romney ran the first time and he’s got a big heart for animals.
His blog, Dogs Against Romney, is written in the voice of a dog, Rusty, and, appropriately enough, the Sweetswineporkrinds.com site, subtitled "Hogs Against Romney" is narrated by “Wilbur” the pig.
Crider, 47, says searches for the slogan on Wilson’s hat doubled his daily traffic and a Facebook post about “Sweet Swine” garnered more than 700 “likes,” 114 “shares” and 79 comments, potentially reaching thousands more.
Sales for his anti-Mitt shirts and bumper stickers also seems up, but he doesn’t immediately have a good analysis on that traffic. He's added a replica "Sweet Swine" hat as well.
Crider said he created the hats at the request of several people. He said he “searched high and low” for any sign of a hat similar to Wilson’s and he could not any. It appears that Wilson’s hat is out of production.
So far, Crider says, he hasn’t sold a single one since he added the hats last night.
“I don't expect to sell many, if any,” Crider wrote in an email. “I think most people just think it’s funny. They might buy one as a joke - maybe.”
The money he raises will go toward animal welfare, Crider said.
“It’s safe to say I recouped my $9.99 investment in the URL, though,” Crider says.
His original intent? Crider says, “I set up the quick page just to entertain our 44,000 members on our Facebook page and to take advantage of the opportunity to draw a bunch of traffic (which has worked quite well).”
The Sweet Swine site has a ways to go before it tops Crider’s success on his Dogs Against Romney blog. He says that site went “fairly viral” in 2007 for about 10 days, drawing about a million readers in two weeks, driven in part by a CNN report on it.
“I have learned over the years that even the smallest mention of something like that on a national broadcast can drive a lot of traffic,” Crider said.