By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Tom Tancredo is running for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket, the former Republican congressman said on Monday afternoon. It’s a move the state GOP chairman says will hand the election to the Democrat, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Tancredo’s announcement follows an ultimatum he issued late last week to Scott McInnis and Dan Maes, the two candidates on the Republican primary ballot based on a poll to be taken after the primary. If the nominee trailed Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper, the GOP primary winner would drop out.
Tancredo termed both Republicans “unelectable” and said he would jump in the race unless they agreed to withdraw by “high noon” on Monday. Both candidates’ campaigns brushed back Tancredo’s proposal and said they were staying on the ballot.
“I am going to seek the nomination of the American Constitution Party for governor of Colorado,” declared Tancredo in a one-sentence press release, Monday.
Tancredo told The Colorado Statesman late Monday he planned to announce his bid officially on Tuesday.
“After that all hell will break loose!” said Tancredo. “I changed my voter affiliation today — I’m no longer a Republican.”
Any questions about Tancredo pulling out might be answered by the fact that Tancredo is being advised by Bay Buchanan, who steered Tancredo’s 2008 Republican presidential bid. Without a doubt, Buchanan, sister of former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, will put the campaign into the national spotlight and be a magnet for campaign donors.
“We’ve already found a place for Bay to live during the upcoming months of this campaign,” said Jen Raiffie, Tancredo’s campaign communications director.
“Things are moving fast!” said Raiffie, who can barely keep up with the volcanic local and national media inquiries.
In the wake of criticisms hurled by state GOP Chair Dick Wadhams and the Colorado “Tea Party and 9-12 Project Coalition” leaders, Tancredo said, “I did what I had to do.”
Tancredo said that Wadhams had originally liked his idea of an ultimatum for Maes and McInnis to agree to withdraw from the race in order for a GOP vacancy committee to select a viable candidate. However, Tancredo acknowledged that the committee wouldn’t have picked him.
Wadhams said he never liked the idea. To prove the point, the party chair has gone on a tirade against Tancredo, calling him a “maniacal egotist” to The Colorado Statesman and on the Caplis & Silverman radio talk show today.
The exchanges between Wadhams and Tancredo have turned into a duck-and-cover shooting match on radio airwaves. Tancredo’s revelations of Wadhams’ alleged disdain for Maes and McInnis are like ricocheting bullets that could critically wound the GOP gubernatorial nominee as much as Tancredo’s entry into the race.
“Dick has gone… I don’t know what,” said Tancredo. “Maybe he needs a little medicinal marijuana.”
The “high noon” showdown was subdued compared to the early morning shots fired Monday between Tancredo and state GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams on the Peter Boyles show on 630 KHOW. The two veteran Republicans called each other liars.
Wadhams set off the fireworks when he told Tancredo, “I’m glad to finally talk to you, since you wouldn’t return my phone calls for three days last week.”
Tancredo returned fire.
“If you really want to get into this,” he said, his voice rising, “and that’s fine buddy, if you really want to get into this, we will because one of the things I didn’t want to do necessarily was bring to light all the things you have told me about the candidates we have presently.”
“Go ahead,” Wadhams said. “Why don’t you also tell people that you called me before the state assembly and said you wanted to exploit your supporters … to keep Dan Maes off the ballot.”
“You thought that was a good idea,” Tancredo countered.
Then Tancredo zeroed in on the reason he said he was running.
“If I’ve ever seen a train wreck waiting to happen, it’s this party,” Tancredo said. He added, “Somebody’s gotta do something.”
Moments later, addressing Wadhams directly, Tancredo said even the state GOP chairman didn’t think the two current candidates could win.
“You hate the people you’ve got on the ballot,” Tancredo said. “You dislike them both, you don’t trust either one. You’ve told me on more than one occasion that your opinion of Scott McInnis — let me think of the exact term — is ‘untrustworthy.’ Your opinion of Dan Maes is ‘a joke.’ Those were your words.”
Wadhams denied holding the opinions or making the comments Tancredo attributed to him.
“That is a lie, that is a bald-faced lie,” Tancredo shot back.
“The guy who reneged on his term limits pledge is calling me a liar — what a joke,” Wadhams said.
Tancredo, an early and prominent supporter of the term limits movement, served five terms in Congress, which was four years longer than he had promised, Wadhams pointed out in a release Monday afternoon.
“Tancredo pledged to serve only three terms when he was elected to Congress in 1998, but he broke that pledge,” said Wadhams in a statement.
On the Peter Boyles radio talk show, Wadhams repeatedly asked Tancredo to explain why he was getting into the race for governor now instead of letting Republican primary voters pick their candidate. The state party chair implied that Tancredo was using the ultimatum to Maes and McInnis as an excuse to jump into the race for governor.
When Tancredo pitched the “ultimatum” plan last week, he said, Wadhams liked it.
“I never said it was good idea,” Wadhams said.
The dustup turned into a two-against-one match when Boyles sided with Tancredo over Wadhams’ opinion of McInnis and Maes.
“You told me both of those guys are jokes,” Boyles said.
Wadhams denied the specific allegations but conceded that he’d said both candidates have problems. McInnis plagiarized articles he wrote for the Hasan Family Foundation as part of a two-year fellowship worth $300,000. Maes recently paid a $17,500 fine for campaign finance violations tied to reimbursements he paid himself for mileage.
Wadhams said that Tancredo’s entry into the race would ruin any chance of a conservative candidate beating Hickenlooper. Wadhams predicted that Tancredo’s campaign would amount to a series of headline-grabbing statements about “impeaching (President Barack) Obama and bombing Mecca and all that stuff.”
Tancredo dismissed the criticism. But Wadhams returned to the topic he said mattered most — electing a Republican governor.
“We have a primary that needs to play itself out, and then we’ll see what happens,” Wadhams said. “Why can’t you let that process continue?”
He said a Tancredo bid would make it impossible for Republicans to sort out their problems and effectively challenge the Democrat in the fall.
“What Tom Tancredo is doing is taking it off the table and ensuring Hickenlooper will win,” Wadhams said.
Tancredo rejected the notion his candidacy was the problem, instead pointing to the state GOP.
“I am trying my best, to do my level best, to do what I believe is necessary for the conservatives in this state,” Tancredo said. “I don’t want Hickenlooper as governor. If we continue down the path we are on, and the Republican Party specifically, that’s where we’re headed. And you know it and I know it.”
Aside from the blame and after all the shouting, Tancredo said it was essential he start running as fast as he could.
“If I get into it, buddy,” Tancredo said, “I’ve got to get into it as hard and as tough as I possibly can.”
When current ACP gubernatorial candidate Benjamin “Big Ben” Goss withdraws his candidacy — in a notarized letter delivered to the Colorado Secretary of State Bernie Buescher — the party’s vacancy committee will convene to consider filling the vacancy with Tancredo. Goss said these steps would occur late Monday or early Tuesday.
The campaign has a website and extensive marketing materials ready to go, Raiffie said, just waiting for all the pieces to be in place before throwing the switch.
Some critics — both Republicans and Tea Party converts — have viewed Tancredo’s ultimatum as hypocritical. He said the plan would have ensured Republicans of a viable candidate who can defeat Hickenlooper — and because Maes and McInnis did not agree to drop out, Tancredo is launching his gubernatorial bid.
GOP leaders, including Wadhams, have said Tancredo’s entry into the political contest damages the GOP and the “ultimatum” plan demonstrated a lack of respect for Republicans who have participated in the process from caucus to the state GOP assembly to the primary.
“Those looking for a deadline should focus on the only real deadline — August 10 at 7 p.m. This is when the polls close, the people have voted and their votes are counted,” declared McInnis. “That’s the way the system works in a free society.”
“Coming from a man whose career has been marked by often-astonishing levels of arrogance, this move shouldn’t surprise us. And yet, one would suppose that even someone of Tancredo’s conceit would bow to the greater good in a year such as this,” Maes said in a statement.
“Tom Tancredo is now running on the American Constitution Party’s platform to end congressional pensions and salaries and, once again, I assume he will forego his own congressional pension and he will reimburse the taxpayers for more than $1.5 million that he was paid as a congressman for ten years,” Wadhams said in a statement issued soon after Tancredo announced.
Tancredo said that Wadhams has misinterpreted the American Constitution Party’s platform. That section, he said, aims to reform the federal system of paying congress members by transferring the responsibility to states that elect them.
“It is my understanding that the party wants to kick the whole thing of paying members of congress back to the state, including pensions,” said Tancredo, of the plan that, if successful, would only affect newly elected congress members.
“Tom did not leave the Republican Party — the party left all of us,” declared Raiffie. “Tom is just blowing the whistle.”
Countering questions about Tancredo’s motivations, Raiffie said, “Tom is doing this for one reason only — to beat John Hickenlooper.”
Logistics still in play
Tancredo has a few obstacles to hurdle — first, the press release issued by the Colorado 9-12 Project and Tea Party Coalition that underscored its members support for Maes who won website polls over the weekend.
Raiffie said the poll was “tainted” because of language in emails sent to members encouraging them to participate in the poll. The following e-mail was dispatched to Denver-Front Range 9-12 Project members by Max Brewster.
“URGENT! — Emergency Governor’s race poll,” stated the e-mail.
“Hi Folks, a new development today in the Colorado governors race requires we ask you take this one question emergency survey. Results will be forwarded to our State 9-12 Chair for inclusion in the statewide numbers.
“Today, Tom Tancredo announced that both Scott McInnis and Dan Maes must step down by high noon July 26 and he be made the GOP nominee or he will announce he is running as the American Constitution Party candidate for Governor.”
Raiffie sent the following e-mail to Brewster and copied Lu Busse, known as “Granny” in the 9-12 Project.
“Max, your statement is incorrect. Tom never demanded to be appointed GOP nominee. Tom said if they did not commit to stepping down so an electible candidate could be appointed, then he will announce Monday his candidacy through the Constitution party. Please issue a correction. This will affect your poll.”
Raiffie said the poll was influenced by a statement about Tancredo “that was absolutely false!”
Fueling the “tea party” and 9-12 Project” leaders’ dissatisfaction is a letter that Tancredo wrote last fall that encouraged them not to form a third party but work within the GOP. Raiffie said,
“Tom stands behind what he said then — now, time and circumstances have entirely changed,” said Raiffie. She said the “Tea Party and 9-12 Project” activists originally promoted “principles over party” and asked, “Where is that now? They’ve become the establishment.”