Just a few weeks ago, Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) was coasting to the governor’s office in Colorado.
His Republican opponent, a tea party-backed businessman named Dan Maes, was imploding, and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo was in distant third place. Now look at the latest polls. Mr. Tancredo, a former Republican congressman famous for his strong anti-immigrant views, looks to be within striking distance of victory.
The average of recent polls, as tracked by RealClearPolitics.com and Pollster.com, shows Tancredo trailing by just six percentage points. Last week, the Republican firm Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies showed him down just one point. On Monday, the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) had him down just three points. Over the weekend, the Denver Post released a survey showing him down by 10.
Whether this apparent surge is real or not remains an open question. The marquee race in Colorado, for Senate, has turned into a barn-burner, with appointed Sen. Michael Bennet (D) pulling back from a deficit into a statistical tie with Republican Ken Buck. That would seem to weigh in the favor of Mayor Hickenlooper, as it shows Democratic voters “coming home” to their party’s nominees. That’s the explanation for the Denver Post poll, which shows Hickenlooper at 49 percent.
“The mayor had been running a campaign that was relatively nondescript, stay out of trouble, with feel-good ads and a pledge not to go negative,” says Mr. Ciruli. “But this may be the year of the angry male, and with Tancredo, you couldn’t get much angrier. He’s a real fighter. He’s getting the full benefit of what’s going on out there.”
Public support nationwide for Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration has fueled the Tancredo brand.
But in Colorado, there’s a catch: The state has a large Latino population. Wouldn’t that hurt Tancredo the way it has hurt California Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, after the flap over her illegal immigrant housekeeper?
You’d think. But this is a midterm election, and in Colorado, Latino turnout is expected to be down – as low as 7 or 8 percent of the electorate, compared with 14 or 15 percent in a high-turnout election, according to Ciruli.
And there are no high-profile Latinos on the ballot. One might think that the prospect of a Governor Tancredo – the American version of French anti-immigrant activist Jean Marie Le Pen – would scare Americans of foreign origin to the ballot box. Maybe. But “voting against something isn’t the same as voting for,” says Circuli.
What is certain is that Hickenlooper is on notice – and is taking nothing for granted. Even if he sticks by his pledge to stay positive, that won’t prevent outside groups from running attack ads against Tancredo.
Tancredo, meanwhile, released a new TV ad Wednesday, in which the somber, dark-suited former congressman and presidential candidate speaks earnestly into the camera about how he’s “fed up with elitist politicians who trash our values and jeopardize our economic future.”
The tea party is now fully behind Tancredo, as are some well-known Republicans in the state. Colorado may have a second barn-burner on its hands.