Terrance Guido Gerin, first-time politician, third-generation Italian-American and native son of Dearborn, Michigan, is the Republican nominee for his home state’s 15th Congressional District. He’s as close to a middle-of-the-road Republican as can exist in this political climate. He’s a devout Catholic, but has no problem with other interpretations of God. “I won’t force my faith on anyone,” he says. “We have to respect each other. I love freedom of religion.”
He’s pro-business, but also pro-union. “Unions don’t bother me at all. My brother’s been a union worker his whole life, and they’ve treated him well.” And he’s supporter of social programs. “It’s important that we have programs to help people who need it. We just have to be careful about how we run them.”
Mostly, though, he believes: “It’s important to show younger men and women that nothing’s free. If you want to eat, you’ve gotta work. If the younger generation sees me stepping up and being an example, they’ll see that anything they want is possible, too. I will never stop fighting for them.”
Fighting is what Gerin knows best. At 5-foot-10 and 300 pounds, he’s spent the last 21 years of his life drawing blood and occasionally putting opponents through tables as his professional wrestling alter-ego, Rhino (or R-H-Y-N-O, depending on the company employing him). During those two decades, he’s held the WCW U.S. Championship, the WWF Hardcore Championship and the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, among countless others.
Even at 41 — and while running for a state congressional seat — he’s still at it. A little more than a week ago, at the WWE Backlash pay-per-view, Guerin won the wrestling promotion’s new set of tag team titles along with his partner Heath Slater. In a pre-match interview, he wore a Vote For Rhino T-shirt, a not-so-subtle nod to his world outside the ring.
Gerin isn’t the first wrestler-turned-politician: Jesse “The Body” Ventura served as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, before winning that state’s governorship in 1999; Robert Rechsteiner (aka Rick Steiner) has sat on the Cherokee County School Board in Georgia since 2006; and former WWE CEO Linda McMahon lost Republican Senate bids in 2010 and 2012. But as far as I can tell, Gerin is the only active wrestler/current tag-team champion who’s ever run for office.
“The [Michigan] legislature only meets 86 days a year,” Gerin explains. “But [the WWE] did give me an out in my contract if that’s what needs to happen. If I get elected, I want to perform for the people who voted for me. I do, however, still have a passion for wrestling and would want to stay in it somehow.”
His passion for politics is more recent — and more of a midlife crisis kind of thing. “When you hit your 40s, you realize you’re going to die someday,” he says. “You start to wonder what your legacy is going to be and what you’re doing to make things better.” His first move was to start attending every Dearborn City Council meeting he could — as well as the city council meetings in nearby Dearborn Heights. “I haven’t been able to go lately because of TV schedules and campaign commitments,” he says with a hint of sadness.
Dearborn (pop. 98,000) is directly adjacent to Detroit proper, 15 minutes from Ford Field and Comerica Park if there’s no traffic. Ford Motor Company’s world headquarters are in Dearborn, and it’s far and away the city’s biggest employer, to the tune of 44,000 jobs. The median family income is $53,000, which puts it just a hair over the 2010 national average. Almost 30 percent of the city’s residents are Arab American, the largest proportion of any city in the country. To win votes, Gerin has taken to showing up unannounced at as many homes as possible. “We’re up over 7,000 doors at this point,” he estimates. “It’s been pretty brutal because Michigan has been having such a hot summer.”
When people answer the door, he mostly introduces himself and asks what they would like from their next representative. “Typically the reception is good. People are happy when their politicians care enough to come meet them where they live and engage in a dialogue.”
He gets recognized a lot as Rhino, especially as his campaign has received more press coverage. “Part of it is that I’m so big. People are like, ‘Wow, I bet that dude is 300 pounds! Oh shit, that’s Rhino!’” Either way, he tries his best to remain honest with them. “Admit your mistakes, or when you don’t have answers. People just want you to level with them and let them be heard.”
His campaign site and Facebook page reflect the hard-grinding guerrilla mentality of Gerin’s campaign. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the campaign mostly has been self-funded. Gerin says he’s spent about $15,000 of his own money thus far, and will need a lot more as the campaign goes into the home stretch. “I know we’ve spent $2,000 just on stamps — ON STAMPS,” he laughs. As for endorsements, they’ve mainly come from his former opponents in the ring. Wrestling legends Nikolai Volkoff and Shane Douglas have both made videos where they deliver heartfelt speeches directly into the camera speaking to Gerin’s character and work ethic.
The only real political issue discussed on Gerin’s website involves the Dearborn public pools, which are in danger of being closed due to a lack of funding. Gerin suggests enlisting local businesses as sponsors to keep them open. “Roads are another huge issue,” he tells me by phone. “Funds just don’t go to the right places.”
For more funding generally, he’s looking to Hollywood: “We need to bring the film industry back [after the Michigan legislature effectively killed it in 2015]. Not only does that bring jobs and tourism with it, but L.A. people in my experience are very generous people and very giving to the community. Who’s to say that, if we bring the film industry back, we can’t take that movie money and put it in a lockbox for education, or for roads?” Breaking from party lines, he adds, “We have to figure out how to bring in more long-term jobs, too — more industry. That’s where unions can actually come in handy.”
Gerin’s running as a Republican, but he lists (unprompted) John F. Kennedy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt alongside Lincoln and Reagan as his favorite presidents and political heroes. “I try to take the best from every wrestler I know and adapt them going forward,” he explains. “It’s the same in politics.”
Gerin never mentions Trump by name — he does tell me that in the primary he voted for Ohio Governor John Kasich — but he claims to be leery of so-called political outsiders. “If you think you can just walk in as an outsider and change everything you’re kidding yourself.” He views himself as someone who can work within the system, political outsider or not.
His chances at winning are tough to figure out — a small local race in the context of a giant presidential election. Syma Chowdhry, a reporter at the local ABC affiliate who interviewed Rhino shortly after he announced his candidacy, wrote via email that she thinks the race is too close to call at this point. (To wit, in August, Gerin won the Republican primary by a mere 54 votes.)
Edward Pevos, a reporter at mlive.com who’s also covered Gerin’s candidacy, thinks Gerin’s celebrity may tip the election in his favor. “I believe he has a good shot at winning his district,” Pevos offers via email. “He has a huge following, which continues to grow as he’s now back in WWE. … So he has the ability to get his message out via social media more than his opponent. I don’t even know who’s running in my district, but I know Rhyno is running in Dearborn, which is about 25 minutes from where I live and work.”
Gerin’s opponent is 26-year-old Democrat Abdullah Hammoud. Hammoud, too, is a native son of Dearborn. He works as a health care policy adviser and serves as a board member for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. His website is considerably more polished than Gerin’s, and his platform makes no mention of pools or roads. Instead, he lists education, health, environment and economic development as his key issues. He also has the advantage of being a Democrat in a typically liberal district — while about 3,000 people voted in the 15th District Republican primary, about three times that many voted in the Democratic primary.
But Gerin remains undeterred. “We’ve already got a couple more videos in the can [for his campaign site],” he tells me. “They’re a little more strait-laced, a little more community-oriented.” For now, though, he defers to what got him here in the first place. “Can we count on your vote on November 8th?” multiple time WWE Champion Kurt Angle asks a prospective voter midway through Gerin’s lone campaign ad.
“I’m actually undecided,” the man answers.
“Undecided! That’s really disappointing,” Angle scolds before tackling the guy to the ground and putting him in his signature Ankle Lock while screaming, “Vote for Rhino! Vote for Rhino! Vote for Rhino!”
It’s at that exact moment a suit-clad Gerin steps into frame and offers his message to voters: “Don’t let this happen to you.”