Tancredo’s wild ride halted by Hickenlooper’s stampede

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

“The momentum in this campaign is absolutely incredible!” American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo had told enthusiastic fans last Sunday at Giuseppe’s Depot Restaurant in Colorado Springs. “It’s this powerful force and when it happens and gets moving, I am telling you right now, you want to be on the right side of it. And we are on the right side!”

Shortly after most of the polls closed on Tuesday, it was evident that the momentum had dissipated as several hundred Tancredo supporters watched election vote tallies on wide screen TVs at the campaign party in the Stampede Mesquite Grill & Dance Emporium in Aurora. Tancredo was trailing Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper by more than 15 percent of the vote — a trend that never reversed.

ACP’s Tom Tancredo acknowledges his supporters’ efforts.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Michael Tancredo, 5, is at center stage as his famous grandfather Tom wishes him happy birthday, with Tom’s wife, Jackie, and other grandson Thomas backing Michael up.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
A proud Tom Tancredo introduces grandson William to the candidate’s supporters.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Lieutenant governor candidate Pat Miller brings cheer to Tom and Jackie Tancredo, shortly after Tancredo makes his concession speech to his followers at The Stampede.
Photo by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman
Even after ACP gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo concedes the race, Trish Poundstone and her mom, Freda Poundstone, remain hopeful that votes in El Paso and Arapahoe counties would deliver victory to Tancredo.
Photo by Leslie Jorgensen/The Colorado Statesman

Tancredo would later concede the race and declare, “The loss of a particular race does not mean the loss of a cause.” The ACP candidate’s seven-minute concession speech was repeatedly rocked by his boisterous supporters intermittently booing Hickenlooper and applauding and whistling the former 6th District Congressman and Republican presidential contender.

From the start of what was to have been the “Road to Victory” campaign celebration, the crowd disbelieved the election reports rolling across the TV screens. Some, such as Katherine Vitale and Barbara Piper of Douglas County, said they suspected foul play in vote counts, the unusual number of provisional ballots issued and reports of a statewide election system crash during the high voter traffic at 6 p.m.

The Democrats, however, had revved into overdrive to turn out the vote through e-mail blasts, calls and rallies in the waning days before the election.

Tancredo’s loyal supporters, who were buzzing with hope and two-stepping across the dance floor, froze in their tracks at 8:30 p.m. when MSNBC declared Hickenlooper had won the race based on 18 percent of the vote.

“Boo!” thundered the crowd at the TV talking heads.

After briefing reporters, Tancredo’s campaign manager Bay Buchanan huddled with staffer Michael Findlay who was tracking election results on a laptop computer in a cordoned off section of the Stampede’s balcony dining area. With a furrowed brow, Buchanan studied the numbers. GOP contender Dan Maes, she said, was pulling in too many votes — chipping away conservative support for Tancredo.

“We’ve got to keep Maes to a minimum,” declared Buchanan.

Concern was etched on the face of former Arapahoe GOP Chair Nathan Chambers, who served as Tancredo’s campaign’s statewide coordinator. Chambers, however, said the early election reports were spotty from the dozen Republican-dominated counties — El Paso County’s computer system hit a glitch and no tallies had been posted.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Fruita, appeared upbeat as he gave radio interviews for the campaign. Bo and Lynne Cottrell, who had hosted a fundraiser for the candidate at the Stampede last month that drew more than 1,000 supporters, hustled up and down the wood-plank stairs to confer with campaign staffers in the balcony and bolster supporters’ spirits downstairs.

Douglas County Republican Charcie Russell showed off a one-of-a-kind Tancredo campaign button that boasted the candidate’s favorite line, “Watch me!” Calvin and Cindy Sawkins proudly introduced themselves as “legal immigrants” — the Canadian couple became American citizens on July 19. Noticeably missing the action were the high profile Republican politicians who had abandoned the Maes campaign — defying the party bylaws to support GOP candidates — and backed Tancredo.

Tancredo had roped in an impressive list of endorsements including TV and radio host Glenn Beck, Fox news commentator Michelle Malkin and prominent Republicans including Congressmen Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman, former Congressmen Bob Beauprez and Joel Hefley, state Senators Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud, Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch, Dave Schultheis, Keith King, Bill Cadman, all of Colorado Springs, Senators-elect Steve King of Grand Junction and Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs and prominent businessman Steve Schuck.

Former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed Tancredo late last week on Beck’s show and echoed her support in a robocall to voters on Monday.

“Tom is the right man for the job, and he’ll fight for lower taxes, he’ll stop growing government, and start growing the economy. And we know he’ll continue to work to end illegal immigration,” extolled Palin.

The endorsements included every member of the Republican legislative delegation in El Paso County — the uber GOP territory — with the exception of state Rep. Amy Stephens. Added to the last minute momentum were polls that measured voter support for Tancredo within four points of frontrunner Hickenlooper — even Magellan Polling president Don Flaherty predicted the former 6th District Congressman would beat the Denver Mayor in the race for governor.

By 9 p.m. on election night, Tancredo ended the wild ride — he couldn’t turn back the voter stampede for Hickenlooper.

“I’ve called Denver Mayor Hickenlooper and congratulated him,” said Tancredo standing on stage with his wife Jackie, their children and three grandsons, Michael, William and Thomas, and his running mate, former state Rep. Pat Miller.

“No! No! No!” shouted the crowd. “It’s too early! It’s too early!” yelled a man.

His thoughts were echoed by Freda Poundstone, who had switched her support from Maes to Tancredo after the Republican candidate became embroiled in campaign finance violations and personal credibility issues.

“He should wait until the votes come in from El Paso County and Arapahoe County,” said Poundstone, who was seated in front of the stage. “He could still win.”

But, Tancredo and his campaign staff had researched the numbers and knew it wouldn’t be enough.

“It’s been a wonderful ride,” said Tancredo. “And I have to tell you this. Nothing that I have ever done in my life in politics or anything else that I can think of has equaled this in terms of the outpouring of love and sentiment and spirit that we have seen on this campaign.

“I apologize to you for not being able to carry it to the finish line,” said Tancredo.

“No! We love you! We love you!” yelled a woman over the roar of boos from the disappointed crowd.

“The pundits will be talking about this for a long time actually, trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he said with a chuckle. “We will be talking about it ourselves for a while because certainly we expected a little bit of a different outcome here. But it is the way it is.

“Look at where we are at this time from the beginning where we started,” said Tancredo, who entered the race on July 26 after switching his voter affiliation from Republican to the American Constitution Party.

He had followed through on a threat to enter the race after GOP primary candidates Maes and former Congressman Scott McInnis were plagued with credibility problems. Tancredo had demanded that Maes and McInnis agree to drop out of the race after the primary and be replaced by a more viable candidate selected by the state Republican Party executive committee.

“We had no real organization when we started. No money… but what we did have, the only thing that kept us going all this time, was the support, the love,” said the candidate, who recalled thousands of people saying, “’We’re praying for you. We’re praying for you.’ It’s a wonderful thing. Keep up the prayers!”

Miller said that prayer had been an integral part of the campaign.

“It was a wonderful, whirlwind race,” said Miller. “…I have never been in a race like this one where people on the campaign came together and prayed. If it’s God’s will, it’s God’s will and I’m always satisfied with God’s will.”

Tancredo ended his concession speech by introducing his family and leading the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to his grandson Michael who was celebrating his 5th birthday.

Based on 97 percent of the counted ballots, 51 percent were awarded to Hickenlooper, 37 percent to Tancredo, 11 percent to Maes, and roughly 1 percent to other contenders. Hickenlooper captured 856,569 votes, Tancredo, 620,626 and Maes, 187,998. Still to be counted were provisional ballots and overseas military votes that are due by Nov. 10.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com