I generally try to avoid paying attention in even-numbered years unless I have a ready supply of antiemetics, but I’m always happy to read about the competing goals of different typeface choices. Perhaps the most delightful thing that I read during my hiatus from posting here was this snarky riff on the typographic choices of presidential campaigns — and the questionable design goals each seem to aim for — from the always entertaining and quotable Hoefler & Frere-Jones Blog. (Note to typeface designers with weblogs: “mocking national politicians,” “type nerdery,” and “snarky riffs” become so much more powerful when combined, just like Voltron.)
Immediately preceding that post was a cute piece reflecting Hoefler’s delight that Barack Obama’s campaign is using H&FJ Gotham for some of their signage. As Gary Hustwit points out, Gotham’s aesthetic recalls Modernism and its attendant idealism — themes that resonate with Obama’s progressive base. (I suspect it is also resonates with voters who love flawless and absurdly expensive digital fonts with restrictive licenses.)
To my eye, Gotham is the finest typeface choice from any of these campaigns, both for its quality and for its rhetorical compatibility with the candidate. However, I note that Obama’s main wordmark does not use H&FJ faces. Rather, the ubiquitous Obama yard signs and bumper stickers employ two classic Eric Gill faces: Perpetua and Gill Sans. I am not sure if there is a similarly felicitous design goal behind this design choice. If I had to guess, though, I’d assume that this choice increases the campaign’s appeal among dog lovers.
UPDATE: When I say “main wordmark,” I’m referring to the Obama wordmark as pictured here, which is clearly set in Perpetua (specimen here). Note that there is a different wordmark that may be newer, as Meg points out below.