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Don't Be An Ash!

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The controversy came out of almost-thin air.

After Barack Obama announced that he would give up smoking, The Hill asked other presidential contenders about their vices. "I smoke the occasional cigar," said Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo. And then, in passing, he told the reporter a funny story -- about how just the night before, a Capitol cop had stopped by because someone had complained that he was smoking inside his office. And that crybaby just happened to be Representative Keith Ellison, a freshman Democrat who occupies the office next door to Tancredo.

(By the way, Ellison's office used to be Tancredo's -- where I enjoyed a cigar with him on a visit two years ago. Although smoking is illegal in all public buildings in DC, congressional offices are exempt from that ban. And at least Tancredo has a big smoke-eater by his desk, as well as windows that open.)

"It turned into a really crazy thing," remembers Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa. "We got more airtime on that than anything else." Which is saying something, since the hub-hub over Tancredo's comparison of Miami to a "third-world country" is just dying down.

But Espinosa isn't blowing smoke: Tancredo's cigar got almost as much attention as Monica Lewinsky's. CNN did a seven-minute segment on the latest Tancredo brushfire, which the network repeated through the day. Fox filmed a story, as did MSNBC. Brian Williams mentioned it on the nightly news. And it's not like there was nothing else happening on the Hill -- after all, the Senate's Iraq vote was coming up on Saturday.

Ellison wound up giving an apology to Tancredo -- and that's not all Tancredo's gotten. "The funniest thing, we've been getting a ton of cigars," Espinosa says. "We're going to donate them to the troops."

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.-- Patricia Calhoun

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