Frida Alipour knows when her customers walk in the door, she better have Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ready to go.
For the third presidential election in a row, Alipour, the proprietor of Frida's Cafe and Bakery, is offering her customers sugar cookies topped with photos of the presidential candidates on edible fondant paper.
For $1.99, the liberal eaters can choose President Barack Obama, wearing a suit and red tie, his photo outlined in frosting. For more conservative appetites, there is the Mitt Romney cookie, with the Republican contender smiling in front of an American flag.
"Some customers, if they don't see the presidential cookies right when they walk in, they can get a little mad. They'll come to the register and say, 'Where's Barack? What have you done with Mitt?' '' said Alipour, who has owned the bakery on Ulmerton Road for eight years.
So every day at 6 a.m., Alipour and her staff pull out a giant mixer and start making dough, using Alipour's 30-year-old sugar cookie recipe.
They make sure to split the dough 50/50 between the two candidates. "You just don't know what's going to happen during the election season,'' Alipour said.
Although she has sold about 650 presidential cookies since mid June, Alipour did not launch an official presidential cookie tally until Friday, after both parties had completed their conventions. But when she looks back at her sales over the last several weeks, Alipour willl say, unofficially, "both candidates have seen the top spot.''
"Our customers know that we don't start the official poll until after the conventions," she said, "but I can tell you that Obama led in July and most of August in cookie sales.''
However, once the Republicans converged in Tampa, the Romney cookie gained ground, she said.
"The convention certainly gave Romney an uptick, and then there was also a gathering of Republican women in August that helped Romney's cookie, too. They bought 50 cookies for their one event,'' she said.
It was on a whim that Alipour began selling the presidential cookies back in 2004, when George W. Bush battled John Kerry.
"We thought it would be fun, and right away we started seeing our numbers compare with what the official national polls were saying," she said. "It made me realize that Florida really is a swing state, and every vote really does matter.''
When it was time for the 2008 election, Alipour was eager to see what would happen with John McCain and Barack Obama in the display case.
"The final results were 2,989 Obama cookies sold and 1,923 McCain cookies sold,'' she said. "Our customers really enjoyed it.''
In the past, there have been times when customers would make comments against a certain political party, but Alipour has never feared that the political discussion would become too heated.
"Nobody has ever gotten into a fight about it, but there are jokes,'' she said. "One man came in and said he wanted to buy a particular cookie so he could step on it, but really, cookies just make people happy.''
When she and her husband Jeff Alipour are in the kitchen together, however, the political talk can get dicey, she said.
"My husband and I are partners, but he is an independent voter and I am a Democrat. We have fought passionately about politics always, although we've learned to tone it down,'' she said.
On Thursday at Frida's, customers Bob and Florence Johnson weren't in agreement either. He wanted a Romney cookie; Florence bought an Obama cookie for herself.
Both said they were still undecided about who they will vote for in November. "I think it is uncertain who is going to come out on top,'' said Bob Johnson, 67. "I myself could go either way. Neither cookie should get comfortable."
After the Democrats completed their convention in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Alipour went to the bakery early Friday morning and launched "Frida's Presidential Cookie Poll.''
Right away, Obama took the lead. At 11 a.m., seven Obama cookies had been sold and only one Romney cookie. However, by 1 p.m., the race was neck and neck: nine Obama cookies to eight Romney cookies.
"It will continue to be interesting to watch," Alipour said. "Contrary to what the media says, we're seeing very passionate people concerned with the election.''
She knows the public will want to keep track of the votes, so Alipour said she will post the numbers on the electronic sign in the bakery's parking lot. She will post updates on Facebook as well as on Twitter at @fridascafe.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.