When Tom Tancredo entered the race for governor of Colorado as the Constitution Party candidate, citing fluke GOP nominee Dan Maes' unelectability, the usual conservative movement organs and the Republican Party Establishment rejected him as an extremist who was going to split the votes and elect the Democratic candidate, liberal Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
According to Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams:
"If Tom Tancredo carries through on his threat to run as a third party candidate, he will be responsible for the election of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper as governor and for other races that will be imperiled as well." [Denver Post, July 22, 2010]
Now it is the Republicans who have the third party candidate. In the last few months, Maes' problems and incompetence have impelled Tancredo to the point of a near tie with Hickenlooper.
Currently, Talking Points Memo averages the latest polls showing Hickenlooper at 45.8%, Tancredo at 42.5%, and Maes at 7.8%. It's most likely even closer, as these numbers are skewed by an outlying Denver Post poll, for which it refused to release the crosstabs. (At press time, this may have been supported by a CNN-Time poll). A Republican Magellan poll on Friday saw Hickenlooper barely beating Tancredo 44-43% with Maes far behind at 9%. A Democratic Public Policy Polling survey saw Hickenlooper up 47% to Tancredo's 44% and Maes even farther behind at 5%.
For what they are worth, most of the election analysts are giving it a slight edge to Hickenlooper. Real Clear Politics says it "Leans Dem" noting
"The preponderance of the evidence suggests that the Tancredo surge is real. There are very few undecideds at this point, and there might be just enough Republicans voting for Maes to keep Tancredo from pulling in the 47 percent of the vote or so that he needs to win."
[Colorado Governor Race Analysis, Real Clear Politics]
The New York Times downplayed the positive polls, but similarly acknowledged, "there is no reason to think that Mr. Tancredo couldn't win if he is able to consolidate essentially all Republican support from Dan Maes, whom he has been lobbying to drop out of the race" giving Tancredo a 20% chance of winning. [Governor Forecast Update: Chafee's Chances Wax; Whitman's Wane, Nate Silver, New York Times, October 23, 2010]
My opinion: I am more optimistic about the prospects for a Tancredo victory. It would be no exaggeration to say that if given the choice between Tancredo and Hickenlooper, every one of those Maes supporters would vote for Tancredo.
This is not a race like Charlie Crist in Florida, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, or Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, where the independent candidate is centrist. Tancredo did not run against Maes—who is pretty right wing—on ideology. He ran because Maes was a corrupt nut job who could not be elected.
Even though it is clear that it is Maes who is the "third party", polls are still showing him with 15-25% of the Republican vote. As it becomes more and more clear that the only people "throwing away their vote" are Maes voters, Tancredo's numbers are sure to rise.
It is very unlikely that Maes will drop out of the race at this point. But he could be reduced to virtually nothing if the Republican Party would simply endorse Tancredo—or at the very least withdrawal its endorsement from Maes.
The New York GOP wasted no time withdrawing its support from its 18th Congressional District nominee Jim Russell for having the temerity to write a scholarly article [PDF] questioning the strengths of multiculturalism and forced integration. And in Russell's case there is no conservative alternative to Russell on the ballot—the GOP is in effect electing liberal Democrat Nita Lowey.
If the GOP can revoke an endorsement to elect a liberal in New York, I see no reason why it couldn't do the same to elect a conservative in Colorado.
Well actually, there is one legitimate reason. If Maes receives less than 10% of the vote, which seems like all but a certainty, then the GOP will lose its "major party status" under Colorado election law. According to the Associated Press,
"Unlike 'major' parties, a minor party cannot raise money for both primary and general elections unless it has more than one candidate in any primary race. A major party is required to hold a primary election, even if there is only one candidate for each office, and it can raise money both during the primary and the general election."
This will significantly influence fundraising. However Dick Wadhams, who is coming under increased scrutiny, has conceded this inevitability, noting "It probably will happen…Voters are asking, 'Why would I waste my vote on Maes? '" [GOP fears losing majority party status in Colorado, by Steven Paulson, Associated Press, October 19, 2010]
Good question. The inevitable follow up: why isn't Wadhams (contact him) supporting Tancredo?
Even without Wadhams' support, Tancredo has received the endorsement of every Republican Congressman in the state and all the major Tea Party groups. Many of these endorsements—including Congressman Dick Lamborn (R-CO), Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), and the Tea Party Express—all came in the last week, and so I'd expect these to help peel off the handful of Republicans who are still voting for Maes.
Tancredo's other obstacle: money. Hickenlooper assumed that Tancredo and Maes would cancel each other out and has sat on his hands up until now. This allowed Tancredo to climb his way up to the top—but it also leaves Hickenlooper with a substantial fundraising advantage.
As of the latest October 13 filings, he raised $3.7 million compared to Tancredo's $682,000.
The obvious move would be to run negative ads against Tancredo. But Hickenlooper has vowed—and thus far has stayed true to his promise—not to run negative ads. Thus far, the only one left-wing group to run negative ads against Tancredo is Colorado Conservation Victory Fund, which ran ads in Western Colorado over Tancredo's support of a water use referendum.
As it happens, however, Hickenlooper has much bigger problems in Western Colorado. When he was being interviewed by "transgendered" journalist Eden Lane about why the Matthew Shepard Foundation was located in Colorado even though Shepard was from Wyoming, Hickenlooper responded,
"Colorado and Wyoming are very similar. We have some of the same, you know, backwards thinking in the kind of rural Western areas you see in, you know, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico," [Hickenlooper defends 'backwards thinking' remark, by Steven Paulson, Associated Press, October 22, 2010]
Thus Tancredo's campaign manager Bay Buchanan easily brushed aside the water ad: "Does anyone actually believe that the mayor of Denver, who called the people of rural Colorado 'backwards thinking,' will do more for Western Colorado than Tom Tancredo?" [Tancredo mostly dodges ads, by Joe Hanel, Cortez Journal, October 26, 2010]
Even if Hickenlooper or his allies were to go negative in the next few days, I doubt it could be very effective.
For the last decade, Coloradoans have been inundated by the state and national Main Stream Media's slurs against Tancredo—calling him a racist, xenophobic, intolerant, insensitive embarrassment to the state. They've tried to create dozens of scandals over non-gaffes. Tancredo has always stood by his convictions. And he has always ended up stronger when the dust is clear.
There is nothing that Hickenlooper or his allies in the MSM can drop on Tancredo that the people of Colorado have not heard a hundred times before. The only people who care about these accusations won't be voting for him anyway.
If Tancredo manages to pull this off, it will be the biggest political story of the election—and will teach a lot of much-needed lessons to the political Establishment.
It will show that
Of course, we know that anyway. But a Tancredo victory would make it difficult (although, for the GOP Establishment, not impossible) to deny.
You heard it here first!
"Washington Watcher" [email him] is an anonymous source Inside The Beltway.