Tom Tancredo Goes Rogue

With current Colorado politics having more twists than the “Bernie Guenther” detective thrillers by Phillip Kerr, Tom Tancredo is the player in the latest chapter.  Last week, the former Republican House member from Colorado (2000-08) and nationally known foe of illegal immigration said he would run for governor as the candidate of the small American Constitution Party.

“If I thought for a minute that we had a Republican candidate who could win in November, I wouldn’t do it,” Tancredo told me. “But right now, with the primary coming up in a few weeks [August 10], we have two fatally flawed people and if either is our nominee, we are going to lose.”

The former congressman (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98%) and ’08 Republican presidential hopeful was referring to former four-term Rep. Scott McInnis, who has been rocked by plagiarism charges, and little-known, politically inexperienced businessman Dan Maes. After admitting that he had plagiarized essays on water rights and promising to return to the Hasan Family Foundation the $300,000 it had paid him to write the essays, McInnis has rebuffed calls from newspapers and party leaders to get out of the race. Maes might have emerged as a formidable alternative, but he has been widely criticized in the press for business practices, and has been hit with attacks by his former employer. 

There had been talk of McInnis’s agreeing to resign the nomination once he won the primary. That would have meant that the state GOP executive committee (which has 24 members) would choose the new nominee—perhaps the candidate who loses the Senate primary the same day, or conservative State Sen. Josh Penry (a candidate for the Republican nomination until he withdrew and endorsed McInnis), or Tancredo himself. But McInnis has angrily ruled out an exodus if he wins the primary.

Tancredo recalled how he had supported friend Penry for the nomination and worked enthusiastically on his campaign, including helping the 33-year-old legislator write a “Contract With Colorado.” In his words, “We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Josh had stayed in the race. But the party leaders, in effect, threw him out, making it clear they felt ‘it was McInnis’s turn.’ This is a big problem Republicans have at many different levels.”

Answering the criticism from State GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams and other party leaders that his rogue candidacy will ensure the election of the certain Democratic candidate, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Tancredo replied: “I am running to prevent Hickenlooper from becoming governor. He was a ‘sanctuary city mayor’ and he’ll be a ‘sanctuary city governor.’ But he’ll defeat either McInnis or Maes for sure.”

How Does He Do It?

Colorado campaign finance laws strictly limit donations to candidates for state office and to state parties. The laws have vastly enhanced the clout of the “527” groups and this was a pivotal factor in liberal Democrats’ making big gains in state races in ’06 and ’08. Tancredo admitted he does not yet have a major financial backer and “it will be a big job” for him to raise the $1 million he estimates he needs to jumpstart his campaign. Assisting him in the effort will be Angela “Bay” Buchanan, who helped run Tancredo’s’08 presidential bid. 

The American Constitution Party has been on the Centennial State ballot for several election cycles, along with the Libertarians and the Greens. Tancredo characterized the party as “a 10th Amendment Party. I don’t agree with everything they stand for, but I certainly agree with a lot of it. They feel just about everything that is not spelled out for the federal government in the U.S. Constitution should be the responsibility of the states. That is a noble endeavor.”

Recalling published reports that the ACP supported ending federal pensions for members of Congress, I couldn’t resist asking Tancredo if that was an area on which he disagreed with the party whose gubernatorial banner he is poised to carry.

“They feel that compensation of congressmen should be up to the states, so, sure, I’ll be happy to take a pension provided by the state,” replied Tancredo, who freely admits he lost much of the money he had invested in the stock market, part of which was in a portfolio handled by the notorious Bernard Madoff. 

Sooner State Saga

To no one’s surprise, Rep. Mary Fallin won the Republican nomination for governor of Oklahoma last week. As the national media have been pointing out, the fall contest between Fallin (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 96%) and liberal Democratic Lt Gov. Jari Askins is only the second in the nation this year in which the two major-party candidates are women. 

But one thing that much of the press overlooked was how Fallin, well-known as a former lieutenant governor and backed by most GOP officials, won by a margin of only 55% to 39% over State Sen. Randy Brogdon. With few big contributions, Brogdon nonetheless energized much of the Sooner State’s Tea Party movement and ran hard as a constitutionalist. He also criticized Fallin, her conservative voting record aside, for supporting the TARP bailouts in ’08. Brogdon graciously endorsed Fallin after the primary, and many on the right say he will be heard from again.

Fallin is now the strong fall favorite over Askins, who won the Democratic primary by only 1% of the vote over moderate State Atty. Gen. Drew Edmondson, son of the late Rep. (1954-72) Ed Edmondson (D.-Okla.). Edmonson’s lawsuit against the poultry industry had cost him support in rural counties. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Brad Henry is termed out after eight years.

In a major surprise, Scott Pruitt, managing partner of the Oklahoma City Redhawks baseball team, won the GOP nod for attorney general with 56% of the vote. Backed by Mike Huckabee and the Tea Partiers, Pruitt defeated lawyer Ryan Leonard, son of U.S. District Judge Tim Leonard and son-in-law of former GOP Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating. 

In the 5th District (Oklahoma City) that Fallin relinquished to run for governor, the top two vote-getters in the all-important Republican primary were youth counselor James Lankford (33.6%) and State Rep. Kevin Calvey (32.5%). Since neither won a majority, Lankford and Calvey will be in a runoff August 10. Although both were considered strong conservatives, decorated Iraq War veteran Calvey had the backing of national conservative organizations such as Gun Owners of America and Club for Growth. 

West Virginia Votes for Change

Events are moving quickly in electing a successor to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D.-W Va.). Days after appointed Democratic Sen. Carte Goodwin was sworn in to fill out the remainder of Byrd’s term, Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin confirmed what everyone in the Mountaineer State already knew: that he will be a candidate in the special election this fall to fill the remaining two years of Byrd’s term.

But first, the Democratic-run legislature had to change state law to permit a special election to be held. In so doing, they also added a provision that would have permitted a House member who was already nominated for re-election to run for the House and Senate at the same time. This was clearly done to appear fair to the lone Republican in West Virginia’s congressional delegation, Rep. Shelly Moore Capito. 

But Capito (lifetime ACU rating: 70.11%) then announced that she would not run for the Senate, but remain in the House. The daughter of former Republican Gov. (1968-76, 1984-88) Arch Moore, Jr. also made it clear that she would not run for her father’s old job in a special election should Manchin be elected senator and resign from the governorship.

This leaves businessman and former State Party Chairman John Raese as the near-certain Republican standard-bearer for the Senate. Stalwart conservative Raese was his party’s Senate nominee in 1984 and 2006 and lost a primary challenge to Arch Moore for governor in 1988. A just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed Manchin defeating Raese by 51% to 35% statewide.