By Ernest Luning
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
DENVER — More than a thousand cheering fans packed a country western dance hall Sunday afternoon during a Broncos game to hear a controversial Arizona sheriff and the country’s best-known bounty hunter endorse third-party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo.
The fundraiser at north Denver’s Grizzly Rose saloon featuring Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Duane “Dog” Chapman, star of the Dog the Bounty Hunter reality show, hauled in $40,000 and energized a campaign that recent polls show is gaining on the Democratic front-runner, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, said Tancredo campaign manager Bay Buchanan.
“It was a huge success, both from a financial point of view and also that it added great momentum to the campaign — there was so much energy and excitement in the room, we’re saying hey, it can be done,” Buchanan said.
A Fox News poll released Tuesday showed Hickenlooper leading with 44 percent support, followed by Tancredo at 34 percent with Republican nominee Dan Maes trailing with 15 percent. The survey of likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. It follows another poll, this one commissioned by CNN/Time, released last week that showed Tancredo leading Hickenlooper among the state’s unaffiliated voters but still trailing over-all.
Tancredo, a former five-term Republican congressman from Denver’s suburbs, entered the race on the American Constitution Party ticket after failing to force Maes from the race after the political novice upset former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis to win the August GOP primary. Maes has seen his support slide in the last month after a slew of prominent Republicans withdrew their endorsements following his admission he misstated his experience as a rookie police officer 25 years ago in a small Kansas town.
But it was virtually all about Tancredo at the Grizzly Rose on Sunday. The rowdy crowd, estimated between 1,500 and 1,700, cheered itself nearly hoarse as a cavalcade of conservative heroes took the stage, culminating in the candidate’s rendition of a classic Marty Robbins country western song.
“I’m here for Congressman Tom,” Arpaio said, in between complaints about the thin air at Colorado’s altitude. He said he first met Tancredo during his short-lived 2008 presidential campaign in New Hampshire — where Arpaio said he was “supporting someone else, it wasn’t John McCain” — and then went on to thank Tancredo for “all he has done for the state of Arizona” by supporting that state’s controversial anti-immigration law, which is facing a constitutional challenge in federal court.
“I think Colorado needs a Tom,” Arpaio told the crowd.
“Forget the party labels, just look at the person — vote for the person,” he said, in a theme repeated by many of the speakers and Tancredo supporters at the event, including numerous Republican Party stalwarts.
In addition to Arpaio and Chapman, former federal immigration agent Cory Voorhis ran the event’s security and one of his chief supporters, KHOW talk show host Peter Boyles, appeared to boost Tancredo’s campaign.
Arpaio, self-described as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” — labeled “America’s Worst Sheriff” by the New York Times — regaled the crowd with stories about some of his more notorious measures, including housing thousands of convicts in giant tents, providing pink underwear for inmates and instituting “the only female chain gang in the history of the world.”
Over thunderous applause, Arpaio crowed, “I’m giving Tom a lot of ideas here.”
Proudly proclaiming that he is under investigation by the Department of Justice — one of several federal probes targeting Arpaio — for “alleged racial profiling because all we do is stop people because they look like they’re from another country,” Arpaio drove home one of Tancredo’s central campaign themes, getting tough on illegal immigrants.
“It’s easy to say let’s secure the border versus let’s lock up the illegals that are in our country already,” Arpaio said, adding, “Every time we take an illegal out of the workplace, we make room for a U.S. citizen to get a job.”
Although he acknowledged, “I’m a very controversial guy — I’ve got everybody shooting me — not literally, yet,” Arpaio drew nothing but hearty applause and deafening cheers from the crowd at the Grizzly Rose.
“You want a typical politician who reads a speech and tells you what you want to hear?” he asked. Shaking his head, he went on: “You want a guy who tells it like it is and gets the job done.”
Arpaio told Tancredo to stand firm on his principles.
“Sometimes politicians have to worry about the Hispanic vote,” he said. “I don’t worry about it. Or you have to worry about the employers being mad because they can’t hire cheap labor. I don’t worry about it. You have to do what’s right, and that’s why I support Tom.”
After some confusion about which state he was in — wondering aloud whether the state capital was Nevada’s Carson City — Arpaio brought his endorsement to a thunderous conclusion.
“Let’s get someone in Colorado who really has the heart, the experience and the will to fight all odds, to fight all odds,” he said. He then exhorted the crowd: “Make sure you support Tom, and vote for him — vote, vote, vote!”
While Arpaio might have been a tough act to follow in some settings, former Greenwood Village Mayor and longtime lobbyist Freda Poundstone was up to it. Introduced as “small, feisty, determined,” the veteran Republican activist blasted voters who might be teetering over their vote in the governor’s race.
“You know we’re getting a lot of you-know-what from the Republican Party — don’t vote your principles,” she scolded, and then went on to say, “If we don’t vote our principles, the Republican Party deserves to be a minority party.”
If Maes garners less than 10 percent of the vote in the fall election, according to Colorado law, the Republican Party will lose major-party designation until at least the next gubernatorial election. That development would relegate Republicans down the ballot along with the state’s other official minor parties, including Libertarians and Greens.
Poundstone, who said Denver native Chapman has been a personal friend of hers for decades, introduced Dog and his wife, Beth, as “heroes.” Barely making herself heard over the excited crowd, she added, “I’ve got two grandchildren out there, and they didn’t come for Sheriff Arpaio, they came for Dog.”
Sporting his signature shoulder-length bleached-blonde mullet and an outfit familiar to his show’s viewers — a renowned look Chapman concedes makes it difficult to surprise fugitives — the reality TV star said this was the first time he had endorsed a candidate.
“I know I believe in this man very much. I have never got behind any candidate in my life,” Chapman said, noting that he is regularly approached with endorsement requests. “I am getting behind Tancredo. He must win this race. I don’t have anything against any of the other guys that are running against him, but we must win.”
Describing a case he said would show up on his reality show — which premieres its eighth season the first week of October on the A&E Television cable network — Chapman said it illustrated a problem Tancredo would fix. A suspect Chapman encountered was released on his own recognizance and even held the door for the bounty hunter on his way out of jail. “Free bond, free lawyer, free probation, and they suspend the fine,” Chapman thundered. “Not with Tom Tancredo.”
If he’s elected governor, Chapman said, Tancredo had earlier told him about a proposal to levy a $10,000 fine on anyone caught with illegal drugs. “Tom Tancredo has a plan to make money on crime as crime makes money on us,” he told the appreciative crowd.
Then, injecting the jolt of religion that often accompanies his admonitions to perpetrators on his TV show, Chapman pointed his finger at Tancredo.
“When we elect you as governor, if you do bad things, you’re going to pay for it — God’s going to getcha,” he said. Turning to the crowd, he continued, “He doesn’t want that, he doesn’t want God’s vengeance, he wants God’s blessing — that’s the kind of man he is.”
Clad in a ball cap, biker’s vest and colorful “Fee Fi Fo Fum” (“look out, fugitive, here we come”) Dog the Bounty Hunter T-shirt, Tancredo described himself as “star-struck” by his fundraiser’s headliners, who he called his heroes.
“We have a tough road ahead of us, there’s no two ways about this,” Tancredo said. “But I will tell you this — I believe with all my heart we are doing the right thing for the state of Colorado.”
After joking about a spill he took a week earlier on his motorcycle — leaving him with a bit of “road rash” but still determined to ride without a helmet — Tancredo zeroed in on the immigration issue.
“When the federal government abdicates one of its major responsibilities, to protect and defend the borders of this nation, then you know who it’s up to?” he asked. “It’s up to us — it’s up to the states, it’s up to the people in the states to tell the federal government, you know what, you can go pound sand — we’re going to take care of ourselves.”
In addition to the “bill that really put them on the map,” Tancredo told the crowd, Arizona also recently passed a law, “believe this or not, saying that in the public schools in the state of Arizona, no more of this pushing multi-culturalist garbage on our kids — we’re going to be one state, one country!”
Quoting Teddy Roosevelt, Tancredo warned against turning America into a “polyglot boardinghouse,” but then lightened the mood by inviting former Arapahoe County Republican Party Chairmen Bo Cottrell and Nathan Chambers onto the stage to organize a musical ending to the program.
“Tom loves this song, he loves to sing it,” said Cottrell, himself a member of the Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame. Soon the music swelled and Tancredo prepared to sing — including the difficult high passages — the classic tune El Paso, about falling in love with a Mexican girl, shooting her Mexican suitor and dying in her arms after being pursued and cornered by a posse.