Political Pile-Up Slows Tea Party Movement in Its Top State
Colorado has seen a significant political turnaround in the last two years. In 2008, 54 percent of the state’s population voted for Barack Obama; since then, it has become the Tea Party movement’s leading bastion. But Colorado Tea Partiers are having a bad day today. Politicians favorable to their cause have dampened their chances of impacting this year’s general election, or just downright insulted them.
First, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a mainstay at Tea Party events, dealt what may be a body-blow to hopes of wresting control of the state’s governorship away from the Democrats. He announced today that he will seek the seat for himself on the American Constitution Party line. (While there is already a candidate running as that party’s nominee, he has agreed to step aside for Tancredo.) Tancredo’s announcement effectively guarantees that right-leaning voters will split their support among Tancredo and two Republican candidates.
The move is hardly a surprise. Last week Tancredo gave Scott McInnis and Dan Maes, two candidates vying for the Republican nomination, an ultimatum — they needed to drop out or he would get into the race himself. Obviously both refused, so Tancredo made good on his threat.
Tancredo has a long past history as a conservative opponent of illegal immigration. Given that this issue has already played a prominent role in the Hickenlooper, Maes and McInnis campaigns, Tancredo’s entry makes the governor’s race here a marquee 2010 contest for people on all sides of the debate.
Both Maes and McInnis have faced serious issues in recent weeks. McInnis is embroiled in a plagiarism scandal, while Maes faces campaign finance violations. As a result, both candidates have nosedived in the polls — even the conservative Rasmussen Reports shows Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Democratic candidate in the race, leading both candidates now.
Colorado GOP chair Dick Wadhams said in a statement that a third-party Tancredo bid is likely to split the right-of-center vote.
“If Tom Tancredo carries through on his threat to run as a third party candidate, he will be responsible for the election of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper as governor and for other races that will be imperiled as well,” Wadhams said.
State Tea Party leaders, sensing the same conclusion was possible, called on Tancredo to stay out of the race Sunday.
“We trusted and listened to you among others; but, now you do not trust the Republican voters of Colorado to thoughtfully and logically evaluate the choices before us” the leaders wrote in an open letter. “You want to impose your personal choice and will over the will of the people. You are subverting the process and our will.”
The other nugget of bad news came over the weekend, when The Denver Post and NBC Denver affiliate KUSA reported that after a June 11 campaign stop, a worker from the state Democratic party recorded audio of Republican Senate candidate Ken Buck disparaging birther advocates within the Tea Party movement to a campaign worker.
“Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I’m on the camera?” he said.
Buck, who has been the de facto Tea Party candidate in his primary race against former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, apologized for the remark today.
“They’ve had a mic on me for 16 months,” he told The Denver Post. “There are times of frustration where I vent. In this case, I vented to the wrong person. It wasn’t a public setting. I was talking to an individual.”
Lu Besse, a state Tea Party leader, told the Post that Buck should have used more temperate language and should not have lumped the entire movement together, but noted that the incident probably would not cost him votes.
But Norton’s campaign quickly jumped on the incident.
“He’s a self-proclaimed tea partier who trashes tea partiers when he thinks no one is looking,” Norton campaign spokeswoman Cinamon Watson told Politico. “Bottom line: The voters of Colorado can’t trust Ken Buck.”
Polls are unclear over who will win the GOP nomination for Senate here. A Survey USA poll released June 20 showed Buck leading Norton 53-37 percent, while a Norton-commissioned Public Opinion Strategies result from two days later showed Norton leading 39-33. While both candidates led either Democratic candidate in a July 8 Rasmussen Reports poll, Buck led by a wider margin — he bested incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet 48-39 and former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff 47-42.