Tuesday, June 18, 2013
OGUNQUIT -- Mike Cote never paid much attention to politics, but the presidential election in November could give him a second career.
Mike Cote, 57, a drywall finisher from Ogunquit, photographed in his home Monday, October 21, 2012, is the nation's leading Mitt Romney impersonator.
Portland Press Herald photo by Gabe Souza
"A vote for Mitt is a vote for Mike," said Cote, who says he's the most sought-after Romney look-alike of this campaign season.
A New Hampshire-bred drywall hanger, Cote starred in Republican candidate Rick Santorum's "Rombo" ad earlier this year and now can be seen slugging a faux Obama on the cover of the September issue of The Atlantic.
"If (Romney) wins the presidency, I might have a new career," said Cote, 57, who has long aspired to be a comedian and has opened for Larry the Cable Guy and Maine's Bob Marley with his stand-up act.
He said he knows an Obama impersonator who made more than a half-million dollars last year. He said Jay Leno paid a George W. Bush impressionist $2,000 a week just to be available.
Cote has Romney's walk down -- straight back, small steps. He also has the wave -- one arm stuck straight out with fingers flapping at the crowd.
Problem is, he sounds more like John F. Kennedy.
"I have to say my R's now," Cote said, standing at a podium in the upstairs den of his girlfriend's house just off U.S. Route 1, where he practices squinting, smirking and making promises for the next four years.
Cote is "a blue-collar kind of backwoods Maine guy who we're trying to turn into a country club yachter," said Dustin Gold, a Washington-based talent agent who represents a slew of political impersonators, including the original Bill Clinton impressionist and two Sarah Palins.
Gold has been working with a couple of Romney impersonators and plans to sign one of them to a contract if the Republican candidate wins the presidency.
Gold discovered Cote when a Google search turned up YouTube videos that Cote had made when Romney was campaigning in the 2008 Republican primary.
Cote hadn't given the clips much thought since Romney dropped out of that race right after Super Tuesday -- until he got an email from Gold just before Christmas.
"I knew my life changed," Cote said.
Soon after, he met Gold in Connecticut and they went into New York City, where a makeup artist showed Cote how to brush white dye into his sideburns and use mascara to thicken his eyebrows.
He met with a voice coach who has worked with Will Ferrell and Bill Murray. Gold wasn't encouraged.
But even limited to nonspeaking roles, Cote has made about 20 appearances as Romney, including on Fox Business Network's "Stossel" show and in a staged street fight with an Obama impersonator in New York's Washington Square Park.
Gold, who books most of Cote's gigs, charges $1,500 to $5,000 for an appearance by Cote, who gets about 60 percent. Cote has also gotten some gigs on his own.
He got a call last week from a marketing firm in Florida that hoped to get him to Boca Raton, Fla., for events leading up to Monday's final presidential debate, but the plans fell through.
Instead, Cote did a drywall job for a friend in New Hampshire on Monday morning and went to a dentist appointment that afternoon.
He stopped at home in between and turned on the television to Fox News. In front of him was a coffee table displaying his issue of The Atlantic and a New Yorker magazine with an article about him.
In khaki cargo pants and a baggy red overshirt and without black dye combed through his gray hair and the pinstripe suit he bought at Brooks Brothers, Cote looked a lot less like Romney.
Still, he looks enough like Romney naturally to get stopped on the street and interrupted while dining out.
Not long ago, a woman came up to him at a craft fair in Ogunquit.
"Hey, you know who you look like?" she asked.
Cote thought so.
"Scott Brown," she said.
The senator from Massachusetts suddenly had a new supporter.
"If he runs (for president) in four years, I can do that one," Cote said.