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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Michigan Congressman, Thaddeus McCotter, is facing the daunting prospect of running a write-in campaign to get re-elected this year. That's because the Republican incumbent fell far short of the number of petition signatures he needed to qualify for the primary ballot this August. Compounding McCotter's troubles, it appears election fraud may have played a part in the failure.

Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: The Michigan attorney general's office has launched an investigation into the ballot scandal that threatens to bring an end to Thaddeus McCotter's decade-long career in Congress. The congressman from Detroit's suburbs briefly suspended his own plans to seek re-election last year to make a run for president. McCotter made that announcement under cloudy skies, to a small, chanting crowd, last July.

CROWD: Thad. Thad. Thad. Thad.

REPRESENTATIVE THADDEUS MCCOTTER: Remember, the storms are coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCCOTTER: You may interpret it as any type of omen you wish.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PLUTA: The looming rainstorm might have been something of an omen. McCotter's dry wit and guitar-playing skills brought him some media attention, but he never caught fire in the Republican primaries. His presidential campaign quickly fizzled, and McCotter filed to run for a sixth term in a district considered safely Republican. No one expected what was to come next.

It takes a minimum of just a thousand signatures to qualify for the ballot. McCotter's campaign claimed to have turned in twice that number. But now Michigan elections officials say McCotter fell far short, with only 244 legitimate signatures. The rest were photocopies. That's right - copies of the same 244 signatures over and over.

McCotter claims he was duped, but also says he accepts responsibility for what happened. He says he wants the Michigan attorney general to investigate, and he will run as a write-in candidate. There is already another Republican candidate on the ballot, so McCotter will have to get more people to write in his name. Elections experts here, say that's a big hurdle.

BOBBY SCHOSTACK: I think it's do-able. But it's, you know, he's got a lot of work to do, and I think he knows that.

PLUTA: Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostack.

SCHOSTACK: People have the opportunity, it's America, they have the right to run, if they want to do that, we at the state party will support whoever it is that wins the primary.

EMILY GERKIN PALSROK: You know, I heard someone say that they're waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell Congressman McCotter that he's being punked.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

PLUTA: Public relations executive Emily Gerkin Palsrok is one of about 1,500 people attending the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference in the Michigan resort of Mackinac Island this week. Political gossip is served here as generously as the cocktails, and platters of shrimp and oysters.

CRAIG RUFF: Something this bone-headed doesn't happen very often.

PLUTA: Also here is Craig Ruff, a consultant and political analyst. He says McCotter is holding onto the slimmest of hopes if he thinks a write-in campaign will save his career.

RUFF: He's got to have probably 20-25,000 people write in his name, correctly. So I suspect it's the end of his political career in Congress.

PLUTA: McCotter's troubles are the talk of this collection of the state's movers and shakers. They wonder whether anyone in the McCotter campaign will face criminal charges for what elections officials describe as one of the most brazen violations of Michigan election law they can remember.

For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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