It’s not like Republicans needed any help screwing up in Colorado. They were doing just fine on their own. But Tom Tancredo’s third-party gubernatorial bid has pretty much sealed the deal. Polls — and even some Colorado Republicans — suggest that barring some highly unforeseen circumstance, Tancredo’s presence in the race will all but hand victory to Democrat John Hickenlooper.
How did it come to this? First, both Republican primary candidates had scandals and problems crop up in the weeks before the August 10 primary. Former Rep. Scott McInnis was hit with a plagiarism scandal over a series of articles on water policy he was paid $300,000 to write in 2005 and 2006. Meanwhile, Tea Party-friendly candidate Dan Maes agreed to pay thousands in campaign finance violation fines, and his self-made image as a strong business leader was undone by the release of tax returns showing him struggling to earn a living.
Tancredo publicly proclaimed what many were thinking, that neither Republican was in a good position to beat Hickenlooper in the general. Tancredo then demanded that they pledge to drop out after the primary, so that the party could appoint a fresh nominee. If not, Tancredo warned, he’d run himself. But Tancredo’s entry into the race isn’t a rescue mission. It’s starting to look more like a kamikaze one. Where the Republican Party is the ship.
The same day Tancredo announced his run under the Constitution Party banner, he got into a shouting match on talk radio with state Republican Party chair Dick Wadhams. “What’s your agenda? What are you going to talk about? Impeach Obama and bomb Mecca?” Wadhams asked Tancredo. And it’s wasn’t just establishment Republicans — Tea Partiers were mad at Tancredo too. Days later, two different polls showed Hickenlooper with a strong lead in the three-way race — and Tancredo siphoning off votes from the Republicans.
A SurveyUSA poll showed Hickenlooper with a 48%-43% lead over McInnis in a two-way race. With Tancredo, though, the picture is markedly different. Hickenlooper still leads, with 44%, but Tancredo (26%) and McInnis (25%) nearly split the remaining votes. One on one with Maes, Hickenlooper leads 50%-41%. In a three-way, the breakdown is 44%-24%-24%. A Rasmussen poll shows much the same story: with Mcinnis, the breakdown is Hickenlooper 43%, McInnis 25%, and Tancredo 24%. With Maes, it is Hickenlooper 42%, Maes 27%, and Tancredo 24%.
“It’s hard to imagine a better scenario for John Hickenlooper,” Rob Witwer, a former Republican member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care), told TPM. “When you have Tom Tancredo running against the Republican party a lot of the focus is going to be on personality … at a time with GOPers really need to be honing in on issues.”
Witwer argued that Republicans had been in a position to debate Democrats on a number of issues, but that a split party puts the focus on in-fighting, while Dems can simply sit back and let the conflict play out.
“Hickenlooper is the invisible man right now,” Witwer said. “And that’s exactly the right strategy.”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com