Tancredo's Seat Could be for William Armstrong III

Declaring that I “have done all I can do in the House,” Colorado Congressman and Republican presidential candidate Tom Tancredo announced this afternoon that, regardless of how his White House bid ends up, he will not seek re-election to his 6th District congressional seat next year.

Although five-termer Tancredo’s exit announcement caught observers in Washington and Denver by surprise, it was not totally unexpected.  The politician who arguably is more identified than anyone else with the issue of illegal immigration had been focusing on his long-shot presidential bid and had shown very few signs of planning a re-election campaign.  In addition, while Republican politicians in the Centennial State almost to a person voiced their support for Tancredo running again for Congress, several had privately begun to discuss potential GOP successors in the heavily Republican suburban Denver district.

One of them with possibly the best-known name among Colorado conservatives talked to me soon after Tancredo made his retirement plan official.

“We’ve lost a little something with Tom leaving — it’s kind of like our Rockies losing the World Series to the Red Sox last night,” said Businessman William Armstrong, III, a friend and longtime backer of Tancredo.  But 40-year-old “Wil” Armstrong is also the namesake-son of the former House Member (1972-78) and U.S. Senator (1978-90) who is easily his state’s most-revered conservative.  Indeed, in terms of his standing among both cultural and small-government conservatives nationwide, the elder Armstrong has been likened to colleague and close friend Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) as a postwar leader.

Will “Wil” Armstrong now run for the open House seat?  “I’m thinking about it very seriously,” he told me, “and I’m seeking advice and counsel, including from my father, Tom Tancredo, and John Andrews [former state senate president and now head of a conservative think-tank]”. 

In contrast to his father — who served in both Houses of the state legislature before going to Congress — the younger Armstrong has never held nor sought office and devoted his energy to varied businesses including mortgages and community banking.  However, he has run campaigns, raised money for candidates, and worked as a volunteer “almost my entire life.”

Armstrong freely admitted that a lot more seasoned Republican politicians will surely try to win the district that George W. Bush carried with 60% of the vote in ’04 and Tancredo last won with 59%.  Among those mentioned are State Senators Ted Harvey of Pueblo and Tom Wiens of Colfax County and Secretary of State Mike Coffman, a much-decorated veteran. 

Although districtwide conventions are not held until June, Armstrong did admit that if he makes the race, the fund-raising and competing against opponents with long-records will be a grueling undertaking.  Accordingly, he said, “I’ll make a decision shortly.”

Bush Won’t Sign No Child Left Behind, If. . . .          

For the first time, the White House today did say there were circumstances under which the President would not sign reauthorization of the controversial “No Child Left Behind” federal education program.  The very clear signal about NCLB, which the President signed five years ago and whose reauthorization he has vigorously backed, may be substantially amended by Senate Education and Labor Committee Chairman Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass) and his House counterpart, Rep. George Miller (D.-Calif.).  In addition, almost 60 House and Senate Republicans led by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R.-Mich) have sought to water down the measure and ease the requirements NCLB has made of states in order to qualify for federal funding.

Although the President believes that the reauthorized measure “should provide for some additional flexibility,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told me at Monday’s gaggle (early morning briefing for White House reporters), he “won’t relax” his call for standards that all students in public schools be peforming at a top level in mathematics and English by 2014.

As for a veto of a No Child bill that would be substantially amended by the Democratic-controlled Congress, Perino replied: “It’s way to early” to be talking about a veto.  But, she quickly added, “the President will not sign a bill that weakens those standards [involving math and English]” — hinting, for the first time publicly, that there are criterion that if Congess fails to meet, it would invite a veto.

Perino also predicted that Democratic efforts to revive the vetoed State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) would fail because Senate and House Democrats “still don’t have enough to override that veto.”