Thursday, December 12, 2013
By ALANA SEMUELS Los Angeles Times
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The campaign that could put Mitt Romney in the White House might also be the break Mike Cote has been waiting for his whole life.
Mike Cote, a drywall finisher and stand-up comedian from Ogunquit, poses in Portsmouth, N.H. When he keeps his mouth shut, he can be mistaken for Mitt Romney. “I have to lose the ‘paahk the caah in the Hahvahd Yahd’ ” he said.
MCT photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times
Cote, a 56-year-old drywall finisher from Ogunquit, Maine, has found that with a little dye on his eyebrows and in his hair, he looks a lot like the Republican presidential candidate.
Cote starred as Romney in the "Rombo" ad paid for by the Rick Santorum campaign, and played him in a yet-to-be-aired reality TV show in which presidential impersonators live in a house together. (Fake Sarah Palin created drama by mistaking sleeping pills for allergy medication.)
Now, with the general election campaign just ahead, Cote is hoping to land gigs at corporate events, commercial shoots and TV shows that have meant big paydays for a lucky few candidate impersonators. He said he had already booked some "top secret" photo shoots that will have him on magazine covers and California billboards this summer.
It's a strange place to be for Cote, who didn't go to college, doesn't have a savings account and is divorced -- all traits that distinguish him from the erudite, wealthy and long-married 65-year-old Romney.
"This is bizarre," said Cote, who had no interest in politics before the rise of Romney. "At 56, having my life change. That doesn't really happen."
But as his new manager is finding out, it's not that easy to turn Mike Cote into a talking Mitt Romney, even though they look like brothers.
Cote's voice is higher than Romney's, and he has a heavy New England accent. Then there's the competition: With the race heating up, more wannabe Romneys are popping up, many with professional training in acting.
"This is going to be a challenge," said Dustin Gold, Cote's manager. "We're taking a drywaller, trying to turn him into a country-club guy."
Cote always dreamed of starring in a sitcom, and in his 20s pounded the pavement in New York with his head shot and resume. Living in New Hampshire two decades ago, he got hired for a commercial in New York. But on the way he blew the clutch in his car, missed the shoot and returned home to an answering machine full of angry messages, the last saying he was fired.
"It took me a long time to get over that," said Cote, whose hair, when not dyed for Mitt, is salt and pepper. "I thought, 'This is my last chance. The door will never open for me again.' "
He left acting and started making a living as a drywall finisher, doing standup comedy on the side. It was never glamorous, he said: gigs near bathrooms, at pizza joints, at Elks Clubs, often playing to a handful of drunks. He made a CD featuring his "slacker" standup routine - called "Starting Tomorrow ... I Mean It ... This Time" - and says he sold six copies.
Then in 2008, when Romney first ran for the GOP nomination, friends told him he looked like the former Massachusetts governor. Cote made some parody videos of himself as Romney, hunting squirrels and posing as Romney's fictional twin brother, Spitt. He sent them to Jay Leno's show, which he said expressed interest in having him on. Then Romney dropped out of the race.
Cote went back to drywall, living paycheck to paycheck, and got a call 3½ years later from Gold, who had seen the videos on YouTube. Gold helped him book the Rombo commercial, which features Cote running around as Romney, shooting a gun full of mud at targets. It earned him $10,000 and praise from his doppelganger: Romney watched the ad on "Fox and Friends" and said, "That guy looks pretty good, doesn't he?"
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