As the Iowa caucuses wound down, Dustin Gold began to panic. Suddenly Rick Santorum was the man of the moment, and Gold wasn't prepared.
Gold is no political operative. His company, William Gold Entertainment, specializes in booking presidential impersonators around the country, including Reggie Brown, by many accounts the most successful working impersonator of Barack Obama.
Gold already has a Mitt Romney doppelganger in the fold and is working with a Newt Gingrich guy, but until Santorum's strong showing in the Hawkeye State, he didn't feel the need to find a lookalike for the former Pennsylvania senator.
"I really had no intention of getting a Santorum until I woke up at 2:30 a.m., the morning after the Iowa caucus," Gold told HuffPost Weird News. "Now I'm looking for one, but it depends on how he does in the next few primaries."
Such is the world of presidential impersonators, where an election can four more years of hefty paychecks.
"I think the president earns $450,000 a year, but Reggie Brown, our Obama, earns more than that," Gold said. "However, Obama will probably make more when he leaves office than Reggie will."
PHOTOS: POLITICAL IMPERSONATORS (Story Continues Below)
Mike Cote, a standup comic and drywall installer from southern Maine, wants to play Romney.
Cote, 56, discovered his resemblance to Romney in 2008 when some fellow comics pointed it out to him. Within weeks, he was on David Letterman's late-night show.
But Cote admits he still has some work ahead of him if he wants to be a really good fake Romney.
"I need to get the voice down," he admitted with a thick New England accent. "The voice is a challenge, because I'm not an impersonator."
Both Cote and Gold said Romney's button-down personality presents a daunting challenge for any impersonator -- unlike Bill Clinton, who has personality quirks that Gold says are "the gift that keeps on giving."
Cote said he has a handle on the Romney character, though.
"He's like a Ken doll," he said. "You just pull the string."WATCH: HOW TO IMPERSONATE PRESIDENT OBAMA (STORY CONTINUES BELOW
While presidential impersonators once saw their gigs dry up when the subject left office, Gold is trying to extend the masquerade of Clinton copycats and bogus Bushes with a bevy of multi-character shows.
For his part, Brown said he think an Obama impression will remain relevant long after the president has left office.
"I am confident Obama will win," Brown said in an interview, "but if he doesn't, he's still a historical figure and I believe I will be able to do him, either comedically or seriously, for the rest of my life."
Gold says it takes about a year after a new president gets elected for an impersonator to establish himself professionally.
"It took a little bit longer for Reggie, in part, because people liked Obama at first and being the first African-American president, people weren't sure how to spoof him."
Brown says his career really took off this past June, when he was ushered off the stage at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans after ribbing various GOP contenders as well as Obama.
"It took a long time to build up a business, but, since then, I've been on the road constantly," Brown said, adding that he started working on his act the night of Obama's election.
"The key to him is confidence. You have to act like you know how to engage the room," he said, going on to divide the president's persona into discrete fragments, including "Campaign Obama," "Sincere Obama" and, when he's speaking to a large audience, "Martin Luther Obama."
Although being a presidential impersonator can bring fame and fortune, Damian Mason -- who has portrayed Clinton professionally since 1994 -- said he remains regularly surprised by how often people believe they are actually talking to a former president. Occasionally, he said, that can get scary.
"I had a little dude at an Indiana Republican event come unglued and scream at me that I was 'stirring s*** that didn't need stirring,'" Mason said. "That event was early in my career and it taught me of the passion people bring to political stuff. These were people who probably knew I was not really Clinton but decided they hated Clinton and they would be angry at me because of it."
Brown feels mixed reactions at the passion Obama evokes from haters as well.
"Regardless of politics, I want you to like me," he said. "I've performed in front of people who hated the president and, therefore, hated me."
Still, Brown said he remains grateful for his recent career swing, owing to Obama's rise in tandem with his growth and training. "A good presidential impersonator needs to be ready for this and have the talent," he said.
As for kindred spirits looking to make Gold's callback list, however, Brown offered a word of warning. "If you're hoping to become a Rick Santorum impersonator," he laughed, "I suggest you keep looking for another job."
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