By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Predicting that the winner of the Republican gubernatorial contest between candidates Dan Maes and Scott McInnis is doomed to lose to Democratic candidate Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper in the general election, former Congressman Tom Tancredo has pitched a “Catch 22” plan — the GOP candidates either vow to quit the race after the primary or Tancredo will run as the American Constitution Party candidate against the Republican primary winner and Hickenlooper.
Sounding like a western oater plot, Tancredo issued a demand on Thursday that Maes and McInnis pledge publicly by “high noon” Monday that they’ll ride off into the sunset and abandon the race after the primary if a poll shows the Republican nominee trailing Hickenlooper.
Viewers of this drama won’t see Maes or McInnis raise their hands in the air at Tancredo’s orders.
“Tom Tancredo doesn’t care about anybody but himself,” said state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams. “He harbors a fantasy that he can win in a 3-way race — he can’t.”
Tancredo is confident that he can win — citing his popularity and fundraising finesse with national ties to money. As a Republican presidential contender, Tancredo raised $6.1 million — including $2.1 million in matching federal funds — before pulling out of the race on Dec. 20, 2007, his 62nd birthday.
“This is an arrogant and absurd position for Tom to take but it is certainly his right to do so. I will not step down from this race at anytime, period,” declared Maes, who fired off a press release in an immediate response to Tancredo.
“Our response to Tancredo is one word — nuts!” said Mike Hesse, McInnis campaign political consultant, quoting General MacAuliffe’s response when the Germans demanded he surrender during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
Republican critics hope that gun-slinging Tancredo will shoot himself in both feet in the Monday showdown — and not kill the GOP chances of defeating Hickenlooper in the general election.
So far, Republican spectators — from party leaders to radio talk show callers — have mostly rejected Tancredo’s interference in the GOP’s gubernatorial race.
“I am furious with Tom Tancredo!” yelled Julie, a caller on Richard Randall’s talk radio show on KVOR in Colorado Springs on Friday morning. She warned that if the former 6th Congressional District Congressman runs for governor, “every vote for Tom Tancredo will be a vote for Hickenlooper.”
Randall sent a harsher on-air message to Tancredo, “You’re either delusional or you are full of yourself.”
American Constitution Party weighs in
With some irony, Benjamin “Big Ben” Goss, the American Constitution Party candidate for Colorado governor, ardently defended Tancredo during an interview with The Colorado Statesman on Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of people are trying to cast Tancredo as an opportunist — that’s wrong. He didn’t just jump into this — it’s a culmination of two years of talks with Tom,” said Goss.
“People are dissatisfied and unhappy with our economic and political system. I believe Colorado voters deserve an honest, consistent conservative to vote for in this race. No one is better suited to bring the issues concerning Colorado families to the table,” said Goss.
Goss said that Tancredo would also bring national attention to the American Constitution Party — and possibly break the stranglehold on the two-party political system.
Wadhams said that Tancredo toyed with running for governor after state Sen. Josh Penry withdrew from the GOP gubernatorial race in November 2009. Tancredo had endorsed Penry, but switched his support to McInnis in January.
“(Tancredo) didn’t have the guts to run and compete in the Republican Party process,” declared Wadhams. “Instead he is cutting a backroom deal to get onto the ballot through a small, minor party.”
Goss protested the assertion that there was a “backroom deal.”
“There is no deal because I haven’t been coerced or promised anything — not even running as the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor,” said Goss. “The only thing I get is a qualified candidate — Tom Tancredo — to run for governor.”
However, he said that Douglas Campbell, the American Constitution Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor, might withdraw so that the party can choose a high profile running mate for Tancredo.
They want to “put together a power ticket,” said Goss.
Some Republicans disagree with Goss’ perception of a backroom deal.
“Who made Tom Tancredo, God?” asked state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs. He said Tancredo’s plan is a slap in the face to voters because it usurps the rights of voters to choose their candidate.
Liston noted that Tancredo’s plan includes two backroom deals that are disingenuous to voters. In the first part, its demand of Maes and McInnis would set the ball in motion for the winner of the Republican primary to withdraw — and allow a state GOP vacancy committee to select a replacement candidate.
Maes told The Colorado Statesman that the plan may sit well with a few Republican power players, but it insults rank-and-file voters, particularly “tea party” and “9-12 Project” activists who attended their first caucus and elected Maes and McInnis as the GOP nominees at the state party assembly.
The second part of the plan is the process of Tancredo becoming the American Constitution Party’s candidate. That requires Goss to withdraw and two-thirds of the party’s vacancy committee (the 5-member executive committee) to sanction Tancredo as the replacement candidate. Tancredo has the required committee votes.
Before the committee meets to approve Tancredo, he must become a member of the party and change his voter affiliation from Republican to the American Constitution Party in Colorado, said Goss.
Goss said that Tancredo has already been vetted by the party.
Contrary to news media reports, Goss said that the party’s platform does not require Tancredo to forego pensions he receives from having served in Congress and the state Legislature. The platform, Goss said, calls for reforming government benefits and entitlement programs for future elected officials and government employees.
County chairs circle wagons against Tancredo
Within 24 hours of Tancredo’s throw-down, the two Republican candidates as well as GOP leaders appeared to be circling the wagons against Tancredo.
Six county GOP chairs in the Denver metro area issued the following cease-and-desist message to Tancredo — and urged folks not to vote for Tancredo if he runs for governor.
“Mr. Tancredo had the opportunity to present himself to the voters and participate in the Republican Party caucus, assembly or petition process. He chose not to do so. For him to threaten the two candidates who participated in the Republican caucuses and the Republican State Assembly to seek to overturn the determination of the Republican Party is unseemly and inappropriate.
“We support the process that our legislature, with Democrat and Republican members, has created to present Republican and Democrat candidates to the electorate in the primary process. Congressman Tancredo’s attempt to jump in front of the line at this late date is wrong, and we call upon him to cease his efforts to interfere with the duly designated primary process.
“Should he choose to go on his own course for his own personal interests, we would urge all Republican, Democrat and Unaffiliated voters to reject Congressman Tancredo’s heavy handed tactics that threaten Republican Party candidates.”
The statement was signed by Republican county chairs David Kerber of Arapahoe County, Clark Bolser of Adams County, Scott Starin of Boulder County, Erich Feigel of Broomfield County, Ryan Call of Denver County and Mark Baisley of Douglas County.
El Paso County GOP Chair Andy Merritt and Vice Chair Ryan Parsell do not plan to issue a statement that would fuel the fire.
“We need to calm things down,” said Parsell. “We need to let this play out and let the Republican voters decide who will be their candidate.”
If Tancredo jumps into the contest, Parsell doubts he’ll have much impact in a 3-way general election race, particularly if he continues with hot-button rants to impeach President Barack Obama and vows to legalize marijuana.
“The candidate who understands the needs of Colorado is going to campaign first and foremost on jobs, economy and cutting government spending,” said Parsell. “That will be the Republican candidate.”
McInnis will support Maes if he wins Primary
McInnis reportedly gave assurances Friday that he’ll support Maes if his Republican opponent wins the primary. “Scott McInnis approached me and said that. I was really surprised,” recalled Jordan Maes, executive aide on her father’s campaign.
“Scott has said all along that he will support the Republican nominee no matter who it is,” Hesse told The Colorado Statesman.
The political consultant was with McInnis at the Weld County Fair on Saturday — one of many campaign stops in a jam-packed schedule to travel the state in the last few weeks before the Aug. 10 primary election results. Between the lines, McInnis is busting bronco to win the contest.
Unknown is whether Maes will back McInnis if he wins the primary.
Jason Worley, Broomfield 9-12 Project organizer, posted the following message on the grassroots activists’ website:
“I have no problem with a third party candidate. I have an issue with Tom Tancredo’s ego. He sent a letter to all the grassroots back in December of 2009 begging us not to (go) the third party route. (Tancredo) is one of the guys who foisted McInnis on us.
“Please, someone tell me Tancredo’s platform for being Gov? If it’s (to) impeach Obama then he should run for the Senate, not the Gov race. Tanc just turned a bad situation into a joke — one centered on Tancredo doing what he does best, (getting) media attention.”
Maes told The Colorado Statesman that 9-12 Project and “tea party” groups across the state are polling members on websites this weekend. He said the results are going to be combined as part of “Operation Avalanche” and released to the public on Monday.
The polls, said Maes, appear to favor him over McInnis and Tancredo. If the trend continues, Maes hopes the poll results send a message that the constitutionalist conservatives remain loyal to his candidacy.
Maes said that Tancredo’s involvement in the governor’s race could have been influenced by two of his former supporters, including Jen Raiffie who has recently criticized the candidate. Maes said the duo are either “playing mind games” on him by using Tancredo or there’s a deeper sinister motive.
Raiffie did not return calls and e-mails for comment.
Tancredo defended his plan Friday on the Caplis & Silverman talk radio show on KHOW — describing it as an “honorable” way for Maes and McInnis to exit the race and an opportunity for them “to take the high road.”
“Let them blame the whole thing on me,” declared Tancredo.
Asked about the assertion that a 3-way race for governor in the general election will hurt the Republican Party, Tancredo offered a solution.
After the primary election, he said, the Republicans can force out the winner and simply not replace their candidate. That, Tancredo said, would ensure that he defeats Hickenlooper.
Before issuing his ultimatum plan, Tancredo might have learned a lesson from the contentious 2008 Republican primary race in the 5th Congressional District. Candidates Jeff Crank and Bentley Rayburn signed an agreement that poll results would determine which candidate would drop out and which would run against incumbent Congressman Doug Lamborn. Crank and Rayburn knew they couldn’t beat Lamborn in a 3-way primary contest. When push came to shove, Rayburn earned lower poll numbers but refused to quit the race because of questions about the validity of the poll. Lamborn, of course, won a second term.
If Tancredo runs for governor, he’ll be the highest profile Republican to run under the American Constitution Party banner since 2000, when former state Sen. Charlie Duke, R-Colorado Springs, switched his party affiliation.
In a series of “God told me” political moves, Duke, a Republican star on the national “patriot movement” scene, abandoned his state Senate seat in 1997. Based on his heavenly political consultant’s advice, Duke attempted to reclaim the seat by asking state Sen. Doug Lamborn to resign in1998 — apparently Lamborn wasn’t copied on the divine memo.
When that failed, Duke tried to run as an American Constitution Party candidate against Republican state Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, in 2000. Problem was Duke missed the deadline to become an unaffiliated voter and American Constitution Party member in violation of the party’s bylaws that were later changed.