A short time ago, Tom Tancredo was at Denver International Airport. "I'm going to Houston," he said. "I have a speech I'm making to the Texas Coalition for Immigration Reform, or something like that."
But Tancredo took a few minutes to make it clear that he does indeed plan to challenge Republican front-runner Scott McInnis in the upcoming primary to determine who'll take on Governor Bill Ritter in 2010.
"Primaries can be very difficult things, and ugly things," he conceded. "But they can also be very salutary, very helpful. And it's my hope that's the kind of primary we'll have."
Early rumors that Tancredo had formed an exploratory committee "are not accurate," he noted. "We've not filed any papers exploring anything. I full intend to run. It's just that I have to do a few little things in the meantime before we can make a formal announcement. I need to get my own house in order.
"I'm in the precarious position of saying, 'Yes, I want to run. I think I will run. But no, I can't tell you I am running,'" he continued, laughing. "It's a weird thing, but it happens in politics."
As for his motivation, he put it simply: "Josh Penry dropped out. He dropped out, and I was flabbergasted. I supported him, I raised money for him. He was my candidate, and I think he's a great guy. So that changed things for me, and now I need to get all kinds of things arranged. I guess I could have said the next day, 'I want to run,' and then try to figure out how to do it. But I think we need to do it the right way."
When asked why he's not entirely sold on McInnis, he demurred: "I think, for the most part, I'm going to reserve all the things I need to say about Scott until I enter the race. But right now, the way I look at it, the Republican Party and the state of Colorado are in relatively bad shape. The state has raised taxes -- this governor has raised taxes in the face of a recession. He's raised fees and driven jobs out of the state. And that's really not a good agenda, I don't think." He laughs at his own understatement, adding, "There's something about it that doesn't strike me as the best thing you can do for this state."
Regarding the Republican Party, Tancredo believes "it's looking for its soul, and I think it's looking in all the wrong places. The McCain leadership of this party has driven it into the ground. People are now responding through Tea Parties and such, but they're not saying they want to be Republicans. They're saying they want less government, less taxes, but they're not connecting that to the party. And the party needs to be aware they're not doing it out of a love for Republicans. They're doing it because the other side has screwed them so badly.
"I think the party needs people who will face up to the ideals that we always tout during campaigns but seldom employ when we govern -- and I fear that same sort of thing here in Colorado. So I'm going to do my best to run a campaign that has no broken promises and is governed the way I'll talk about in the campaign. I'll tell you exactly what I'll do should you elect me, and if you don't like those things, then don't vote for me.
"There's so much cynicism out there right now, and I understand it. I'm cynical myself. Maybe that's just natural in this business. But I'm trying my best, and I think there's a better way to deal with politics. I am an ideologue: There's no two ways about it. I don't deny it. Issues matter to me. They're what get my juices flowing, what make me get out of bed in the morning and go to the next meeting. Otherwise, it's just not worth it. Because I've been there, done that."
Throughout the Republican gubernatorial race to date, McInnis has continued to stress party unity; that was his rationale for refusing to debate Penry. But Tancredo doesn't see that goal as a reason for sitting on the sidelines.
"Primaries are contests, and in contests, you challenge, you thrust and parry," he said. "They're not Tea Parties, but on the other hand, they don't have to be bloodbaths. Of course, they can be, but it's not my intent to do that."
How will he avoid such a turn of events? "I can't talk about it at this point," Tancredo allowed. "But I'll explain everything at a later date."
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