THE NATION’S STRANGEST RACE: DOES TANCREDO LOVE HICK?

And is he in it to stay?

It was hard to believe former Congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo could speak with a straight face when he would argue his entry in the Governor’s race as a third-party candidate under the banner of the American Constitution Party was not meant to hurt Republican nominee Dan Maes.  Rather, Tancredo said he was “in it to win it.”

The numbers were revealingly definitive.  With Tancredo in the race, polls showed Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper picked up over 40% of voters’ support, Maes came in at over 30%, and Tancredo lagged at under 20%, with only a tenth of the voters undecided.

With Tancredo out of the race, however, three-quarters of his supporters flocked to Maes and the balance went to Hickenlooper.  The result was a 45% to 45% tie between Hickenlooper and Maes with 10% undecided.  The numbers from a variety of polls clearly and consistently show Maes is competitive with Hickenlooper and, if he were able to run a competitive campaign, Maes could win the race.

Hickenlooper is viewed as Denver-centric and is seen as the heir apparent to incumbent Governor Bill Ritter.  In an anti-incumbent, anti-Democratic year, even Dan Maes looks good to many voters — and maybe an majority of them if he were in a two-way race.  But he isn’t.

The most surprising number was that 25% of Tancredo supporters would rather vote for Hickenlooper than Maes.  It is hard to believe that number would be more than 1% given Tancredo’s constant, multi-year battering of Hickenlooper on the issue of Illegal Immigration.  The 25% figure may be more a statement about Maes than Hickenlooper.

Many people assumed Tancredo would extract some concessions from Maes and drop out so the Republican nominee would have a chance of winning.  That is exactly what happened when Tancredo threatened to run a year ago and ended up not running after he forged a platform with the anointed Republican candidates, Scott McInnis, in November, 2009, which included positions near and dear to Tancredo.  This time is different.  There will be no joint position papers.

It will surprise many when they learn to not expect Tancredo to drop out even if the head-to-head polling numbers show Maes leading Hickenlooper.  Tancredo is in the race to stay.  The only way he will leave the race is if Maes leaves with him.  That is not going to happen unless some traumatic event occurs.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, Maes has a number of problems.  First, he can’t compete financially with Hickenlooper.  He is out of the Mayor’s league and, because Republican funding sources know this, they won’t do anything which they believe is a waste of their resources.  It’s a vicious cycle and probably a death spiral for Maes.  Maes can’t come close to matching Hickenlooper’s $1½ million television advertising buy which, today, likely would require $2½ million for Maes to match due to increased rates and lower availability of key spot times.

Second, Maes doesn’t have the organization behind him which Hickenlooper has.  Although Tea Party and Republican groups support Maes, they don’t yet match the muscle of the Democratic Party in Colorado when combined with President Obama’s 2008 campaign apparatus — now named Organizing for America.  OFA showed its muscle in the Michael Bennet versus Andrew Romanoff Primary Election contest.  This means the Get-Out-The-Vote and similar efforts on behalf of Hickenlooper likely will dwarf anything Maes is able to do on his own.

Third, Maes has been determined by The Denver Post to be unfit to serve or even run.   With The Post on the attack, Maes is unlikely to get fundraising or electoral traction.  A neutral Post would help him but that already is a lost cause.  The Post is Colorado’s top source of substantive political news and having made its declaration, Maes has nowhere to go.

Fourth, between The Post, the revelations about Maes paying the largest campaign violation fine in the State’s history, his nominal business success (after portraying himself as a turnaround expert), and other challenges, Maes is unlikely to be able to generate a quarter of the funds Hickenlooper will raise.  This will put him at a terrible disadvantage.

Fifth — and most importantly — Maes has an in-house nemesis who is determined to take enough votes away from him to guarantee his loss to Hickenlooper.  This is his biggest problem and its name is Tom Tancredo.

Tancredo knows he will not win as a third party candidate on the American Constitution Party ticket.  Unless he has a secret set of benefactors willing to spend $10 million to smear Hickenlooper and another $10 million to promote Tancredo, Tancredo knows he will not place first in the race — and probably won’t even place second.  Tancredo raised +^ million in his presidential campaign so it seems highly unlikely he will raise more than a fraction of that in a 75-day state campaign.  He will be fortunate to raise $500,000 by the end of the campaign.

But, contrary to his public statements, Tancredo isn’t running to win.  He has come to an even more severe conclusion than The Post.  Tancredo sees Maes as a “crook” and believes everything possible should be done to prevent Maes from becoming Governor — even if it means Hickenlooper gets elected.  In essence, Tancredo is campaigning for the election of the man Tancredo repeatedly has accused of establishing Denver as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Tancredo knows two facts: (1) he is not going to win the race for Governor and (2) he always will have enough support to keep Maes from winning.

Republican Party leaders, such as Chairman Dick Wadhams, can’t be excited about Maes being the nominee (does Scott McInnis look good to Republican leaders now?) but nevertheless would prefer a Maes victory because so much more is at stake.  Control of the Capitol, the ability to shape or veto legislation, determining Redistricting, and participating in the Reapportionment process all loom large over the next decade.  Whichever party wins the Governor’s mansion this November will exercise tremendous influence and power.  These leaders look beyond Maes’ faults and, instead, appreciate the importance of winning the race, even if they were to believe Republican nominee is deeply flawed.

Tancredo, however, loathes Maes so much that, despite the support Tancredo received for decades from the Republican faithful, he is going to do all he can to make certain Maes fails in his quest.  All the big issues no longer matter to Tancredo.  He is a man on a mission and that mission is simple — make sure Dan Maes loses the gubernatorial contest.

There is not much Maes can do.  The possibility millions of dollars will flow into the race in an effort to attack Hickenlooper and boost Maes simply does not exist.  Those dollars already are being dedicated elsewhere.  The Republican Governors Association and various 527 committees, although well-funded, are not going to spend a dime helping Maes.  He is on his own.

And while there is tremendous sentiment against incumbents which could hurt Hickenlooper, it won’t be enough to cost him the election.  In fact, there may be so few ads run attacking Hickenlooper, that even the voters who watch television will be surprised at what a “clean” race the gubernatorial contest will be.  With no one attacking Hickenlooper and with Hickenlooper having an insurmountable lead, he, in turn, won’t even bother attacking Maes.

In fact, Hickenlooper’s strategy will be to endear himself to voters by focusing on his self-deprecating sense of humor while ignoring Maes as much as possible.  It’s a strategy with a very high probability of success.  What a luxury in an era of campaigns dominated by personal attacks and incessant fabrications.  In other terms, Hickenlooper has no one to run against.

With the defeat of Maes guaranteed by Tancredo, Hickenlooper will be able to use his campaign resources to help Democrats win statewide and local elections.  Attorney General candidate Stan Garnett, Secretary of State candidate Bernie Buescher, and Treasurer candidate Cary Kennedy all will benefit from GOTV efforts funded by the Hickenlooper campaign.  Voters likely will see one or more of these nominees on television ads with Hickenlooper as well.  And even key State Senate and State House of Representative candidates will get support from Hickenlooper — all thanks to the fact the gubernatorial race will be seen as being over.

And don’t expect Maes to drop out.  He won the Republican State Assembly nomination as well as the Party’s statewide primary fair and square.  He is the official nominee of the Party and dismisses the claims against him as either unfounded or frivolous (and many of them may be).

Because a new candidate, at this late date, is unlikely to be much more competitive than Maes, he will see no reason for dropping out of the contest.  In fact, except for his “Tancredo Problem,” he probably would poll competitively, if not better, than most last-minute replacement possibilities.

But there will be no replacement.  Dan Maes is the Republican Party’s nominee.  Tom Tancredo’s place on the ballot as a third party candidate — and ballots will be printed soon — is etched in stone.  Now all that is left to be done is count the votes and see how big a margin John Hickenlooper racks up in a year which seemed slated to see a Republican take over the Governor’s Mansion.

At the end of the day on November 2nd, John Hickenlooper will have been elected Colorado’s 42nd  Governor, Dan Maes will be his defeated opponent, the Republican Party will have blown an opportunity to reclaim the Governor’s Mansion, and Tom Tancredo will walk off into the sunset a happy man who accomplished his mission.

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Aaron Harber hosts “The Aaron Harber Show” seen on Channel 3 KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado) on Sundays at 8:00 pm and at http://www.HarberTV.com.  He also hosts “Colorado Election 2010 TM” seen Sundays at 8:30 pm on Channel 3 and on Mondays at 8:00 pm on COMCAST Entertainment Television and is viewable 24/7 at http://www.Colorado2010.com.  Send e-mail to Aaron@HarberTV.com.  (C) Copyright 2010 by USA Talk Network, Inc. and Aaron Harber  All rights reserved.

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