- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2001

The transition of power didn't just flow from one commander in chief to another.

Gray-haired, slightly pudgy men who for years adopted an Arkansas drawl and an affinity for the ladies while imitating President Clinton are passing the torch and the late-night television bookings.

Professional Dubya doubles are now in demand.

"It will be a growth industry, no doubt," says Memphis resident Paul Shanklin, 38, who for the past year has been acting out the part of President Bush or at least his voice on the Rush Limbaugh radio show.

Indeed, Bushes are starting to pop up, intonating "fuzzy math," "compassionate conservatism" and "God bless America" with some Texas flair.

"It's almost like I'm channeling when I'm doing it," says Alexandria, Va., resident and full-time impostor Bill Keith, 36, who's been acting like Mr. Bush since October.

"I didn't tell him to quit his day job but he did it anyway," says Jan Kearney, president of Cast of Thousands Entertainment Co., which manages Mr. Keith.

The faux commander in chief, seated at a desk in a mock Oval Office, signed autographs, shook hands and posed for photos with tourists at Union Station last week. Political Americana, a political memorabilia shop, hired him to appear on and off through the end of the month.

"If the television or motion picture industry comes along we'll certainly entertain that," Mr. Keith says.

• • •

Imitating a celebrity can provide a comfortable living for the best performers. Conventions, corporate meetings, commercials and trade shows beckon. Sometimes Hollywood, too.

Decent lookalikes fetch a couple hundred dollars a night.

Clinton impersonator Tim Watters, 43, probably the most successful Bubba the past eight years, grossed more than $1 million in 1996. At the height of his career he made 15 to 20 appearances a month.

"I'm not going to go easy … They'll have to drag me from the White House," he says, still acting the part during a recent phone interview from his home in Tampa.

Seriously, he says: "It's one of those things that inevitably ends. I knew a day would come when my services wouldn't be needed."

Mr. Clinton's scandals and legal woes made him quite a marketable figure, Mr. Watters says. Portraying Mr. Bush, he judges, may not be so lucrative, though the public likes to poke fun at the president's family wealth and perceived lack of intelligence.

Brent Mendenhall isn't so sure about that. The Missouri native, widely accepted as the first and most famous Dubya stand-in, foresees a blossoming career. He's already off to a quick start.

Mr. Mendenhall, 51, has been booked for the Tonight Show, Jon Stewart's Daily Show and a host of corporate, political and private events. His name is all over the Internet and on his own Web site, www.gwbushimpersonator.com.

He even worked some balls on inauguration weekend.

"I think Bush will make very good material," Mr. Mendenhall says. "Of course just being president makes him kind of a target."

The impersonator adds: "You obviously won't be able to do sex jokes."

Mr. Mendenhall likes to compare his own life to that of his famous facsimile.

Both grew up in politically active, moderate Republican families with a strong mother running a household full of several boys and one girl. Both enjoy baseball and received business degrees.

Both liked their fraternities perhaps a little more than they liked hitting the books. Both married in their 30s, they cut back on partying in the the 1980s and have a dog named Spot.

"I'm as close as you can get in a lot of respects," Mr. Mendenhall says.

Presidential impressionist Jim Morris, likewise, already has his impression of Mr. Bush dead-on, right down to the smirk, the pursed lips, the head-bobbing and the jumpy syntax.

Mr. Morris, 43, says he watches hours and hours of Bush coverage, particularly on C-SPAN, looking for sound bites. He lists Bushisms such as "appeal to our better angels and not our darker impulses," "no child be left behind," and "faith-based institutions."

"It makes my job easier because I know that will be the reference point that the audience will get," he says before the Hotline Comedy Concert for Children's Hospital at Warner Theatre earlier this month.

As for those Clinton holdovers, there still may be some need for them.

"People still love Bill. They're still asking for Bill and Hillary," Ms. Kearney says.

Mr. Watters has been getting flooded with calls these past few days, to the surprise of his agent.

"We're getting calls like crazy. People are booking him," says agent Randy Nolen. "Bill Clinton lives on."

He's not sure, however, how long the good times will last.

"We both thought it would be over with," Mr. Nolen says.

Mr. Watters was a favorite of the Tonight Show, where he made more than 200 appearances. The last came on the Friday before Inauguration Day, when Mr. Watters sang "My Way," and reviewed a video montage of his more notable moments on the show.

Show producers told Mr. Watters, "You'll be back."

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