16 October 2010

Might Tancredo Migrate into Colorado's Governor's Mansion?

Pardon the pun but the race for Governor in Colorado really has been quite rocky.  In the August primary, a businessman turned political neophyte Dan Maes beat former Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO 3rd) partly on the virtue of being a newcomer.  The Republican establishment was reluctant to back this newcomer.  But after the Denver Post vetted the candidate’s resume and exposed Maes for egregious exaggerations in his experience as a policeman in Liberal, Kansas 25 years ago.

In early September, the remaining support for Maes from high profile Colorado Republicans disappeared, as Senate candidate Ken Buck and Rep. Mike Coffman did an unusual move of withdrawing their endorsements.   The hope was that the nominee would get the message and Maes would withdraw, allowing the GOP to field a less flawed substitute candidate, ala  New Jersey in 2002 when Senator Robert Torricelli withdrew in a scandalous cloud 32 days before the general election to be replaced by former (and future) Senator Frank Lautenburg (D-NJ). But Maes stood firm and railed against power brokers who wanted to dictate the results of the race.

Maes remained in the race, but his poll numbers plummeted. Maes numbers around the primary were at 33% in a three way race.  In mid-October, the beleaguered Republican Gubernatorial nominee’s support is consistently hovering in the low teens.

Prima facie, this might seem like an easy hold for Democrat nominee, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.  But an Independent candidate is throwing those specious assumptions for a loop. Tom Tancredo warned Republicans that he was going to challenge them in the Governor’s race as a Constitution Party candidate.  With Maes cratering poll numbers due to questions about his character, Tancredo has a fair shot of migrating into the Governor’s mansion.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (D-CO 6th) chose not to seek re-election after failing in his quixotic bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008.  Tancredo had caught the public spotlight in 2007 when he suggested that it should be American foreign policy to threaten Muslim holy sites with nuclear annihilation in response to a catastrophic attack on our soil.  In addition, Tancredo’s public policy passion is ardent opposition of illegal immigration.  That was Tancredo’s motive for joining the 2008 Presidential primaries.

In most instances, “principled” third party candidates branch off of one of the major parties over a couple of key issues.  These protest candidates draw enough support in a three way race to allow the Democrat to win.  I think of Virginia’s Senate race in 1994 when John Coleman cost Republican Oliver North victory against embattled Senator Chuck Robb (D-VA).  Arguably, the same phenomenon in 2002 cost the Democrats the Minnesota Governor’s race when the Ross Perot Independence Party ran former Democrat Rep. Tim Penny and he garnered 16.4% of the vote, which allowed Republican Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) to eke a 5 point victory over the Democrat Farm-Labor nominee.

Occasionally, there have been third party triumphs.  Senator Joe Lieberman did not take his defeat in the 2006 Connecticut Democrat Senate Primary to MoveOn.com inspired  Democrat Ned Lamont lying down so Lieberman filed for the general election as an Independent.  Republicans thought that their own nominee Alan Schlesinger was a longshot candidate and they supported Lieberman’s hawkish foreign policy on the war against Islamic extremist terror, so the GOP virtually abandoned their own candidate and supported Lieberman.  In the generals, Lieberman (I-CN) won 49.7% to Lamont’s (D)  40% and Schlesinger [R] 10%.

The Connecticut plan may be a similar model to what is going on in Colorado’s Gubernatorial this year.  Maes is deemed at this point to be a flawed long shot so many Republicans are looking to alternatives.  Tancredo has name recognition and generally conservative, if not reactionary, views.  Hence Tancredo’s support has gone from the mid-20's to around 38%, which places him just 4% behind Hinckenlooper (around the margin of error).  Hickenlooper’s support since the mid August primaries has gone from just below 50% to now around the mid 40s.  The Maes mess makes Hickenlooper a virtual incumbent, and it is always a danger sign when an incumbent has trouble polling above 50%.

I think that there are several challenges that Tancredo faces.  Firstly, some voters mechanically cast a party line ballot.  Tancredo needs to pull a couple of more percent of Republican voters away from a straight line ticket to have a chance to win the race. Secondly, Get Out the Vote efforts by the established parties might curtail the bandwagon appeal that Tancredo is currently generating.  Thirdly, polling may not accurately accommodate for the enthusiasm that Tea Party voters have to vote for change, which would favor Tancredo as a conservative outsider.  Lastly, it is insider baseball but if the Republicans support dips below 10%, they will not be considered a major party in Colorado and the GOP would have to go through more rigorous qualifying to get on the ballot for two election cycles.  That might make some diehard Republicans reluctant to cast their lot with a Constitution Party candidate.

This race is going to be one to watch on election night. It will test party loyalty, the strength of the Tea Party movement and will hint at whether the Rocky Mountain Blues are switching to a non-primary hue.

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