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“So far, his presidential race hasn’t affected us” in the band, Peterson said. “I think he’s a long shot.”
But not all of his colleagues are so quick to dismiss McCotter, who is hiring staff in Iowa and New Hampshire while running his White House campaign out of his Plymouth, Mich., headquarters.
“I think once he has the opportunity to get on the debate stage, which he will — he’ll be in the Iowa debate on Aug. 11 — I think he will mix it up,” Rep. Candice
Miller (R-Mich.) said. “I know everybody’s saying that he has no chance, but I would say keep an eye on him.”
Two decades ago, the suburbs west of Detroit knew another McCotter better. Republicans recall that it was Livonia City Clerk Joan McCotter who helped kick off her son’s political career as Wayne County commissioner in 1993.
“I think he truly likes history and government,” former Michigan Republican Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land said. “I think that’s innate in him, but I do think that his mom kind of said, ‘You can do it, son.’ Since she had a lot of connections, she campaigned for him and worked hard for him. He had a built-in campaign organization.”
But McCotter and his mother dispute the notion that she gave him a leg up in local politics.
Joan McCotter called to take issue with a March 2002 column by Roll Call contributing writer Stuart Rothenberg after he attributed the younger McCotter’s success to her.
But, as the Congressman recalls, it wasn’t her idea that he launch a career in public service.
“She didn’t particularly welcome the idea,” McCotter said. “She had mixed emotions about the whole thing. But I was inspired by Reagan. That’s why I entered the party in the first place.”
In 1998, McCotter won a seat in the state Senate. One of his signature pieces of legislation was the removal of dozens of outdated Michigan laws, including one from 1915 that rewarded 10 cents to anyone bringing in a dead rat’s head. City clerks, including McCotter’s mother, had to burn those rat heads under the old law.
He was equally as quirky then as he is today. After hours, he fraternized with a group of staffers and Senators known as “The Pipefitters.” He wrote poetry and song lyrics under a pen name, Powell B. Knighton.
In 2001, McCotter ran the expulsion hearings for one of his colleagues, a state Senator forced out of the chamber for misconduct. Sources say he took on the role in exchange for an influential spot on the redistricting committee. Later that year, McCotter played a large role in crafting the 11th district seat that he went on to win in 2002.
Not a Fan of Fundraising
McCotter’s first Congressional race was not an easy win, former campaign aides said. He initially attracted zero opposition, but a business-friendly Democrat entered the race late in the cycle.
Republican operative Jason Roe and others described McCotter as a reluctant candidate, especially when it came to fundraising. Roe remembers a candidate who “didn’t want to do anything but sit in his office, smoke cigarettes and play guitar.” The National Republican Congressional Committee eventually sent help for McCotter.