Tancredo’s attention-grabbing tactics may not produce the results he sought

One theme is running through my e-mail inbox this week: “What’s going on with Tom Tancredo running as a third party for governor?”

My initial answer is that like the vast majority of politicians, he wants attention.

There’s nothing really surprising about this, politics has been something of a “look Ma, no hands” kind of endeavor since the time of Pericles, and finding people who want to run for political office whose sole desire is to serve the public is about as difficult as completing a collection of hens’ teeth.

Columnist Dave Barry (I know, two weeks in a row I quote the guy) said, “If a politician ever ran for president under a slogan such as ‘Harlan Frubert: Basically, He Wants Attention,’ I would quit my job to work for his campaign.”

The days of Paul Revere silver smithing by day and working with righteous zeal for his country under cover of night seem to lie in the past.

This is not to say that former Congressman Tancredo is unmotivated by love of country and a desire to see it do well, or that a number of the policies he’s supported don’t have merit and the country might want to consider some of them more seriously.

It is also not to say Tancredo would not be a much better governor than the Democratic nominee, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, a globe trotting warm-earther presently engaged in the Herculean task of trying to shake off his own political philosophy with a combination of amnesia and vaudeville.

Nevertheless, the question remains: What is Tancredo trying to accomplish by running a third-party candidacy when his chance of election, even in these aroused times, is exceedingly slim and likely will mortally wound the Republican candidate? It will give Colorado the kind of political disaster inflicted on the nation when Theodore Roosevelt decided to run as third-party candidate and gave us our first socialist president, Woodrow Wilson.

My best guess is that he doesn’t see his chances of inhabiting the governor’s mansion as being particularly strong, but does see an opportunity to put forth a number of issues that he believes are of national importance and ultimately important to Colorado. So he sees in the gubernatorial contest an opportunity to get more media interest in his ideas, at least in Colorado, than was generated nationally by his abortive presidential run in 2008.

I’m also fairly certain that he is convinced that Scott McInnis is mortally wounded, and a campaign about national issues, which will get attention from voters and perhaps generate enthusiasm in other races, is better than a lightning-struck campaign destined to fail.

The problem is the damage to the McInnis campaign might just be more thunder than lightning and Republican leaders may find themselves like our friends, the angry and nervous Nelly’s of the left, making bad decisions quickly.

For one thing, when Democratic nominee Hickenlooper moved into the lead after the plagiarism story broke, some polls were only showing the candidates three or four points apart. That’s a significant swing from being ahead, but I feel pretty safe in saying if McInnis gets within three points of Hickenlooper going into the election, the smart money bets that McInnis wins on turnout alone.

We don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I do know the Republicans are polling the heck out of the state to see if that’s the case. This plagiarism story broke far too early to have the fingerprints of smart Democrat operatives on it and seems more likely to come from those with a personal ax to grind, trying to influence the primary.

If you’re a Democratic strategist, when would you prefer the story to break — July with months of some sort of damage control to be done and your candidate with the opportunity to step in it himself, or the second week of October, leaving your opponent’s campaign scrambling into the election and your candidate safely locked in a sound-proof room?

Congressman Tancredo may see himself as trying to fire the first shot at Lexington and Concord, but might end up having more in common with poor Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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