TRAIL MIX: Tom Tancredo, Bernie Sanders will flavor Colorado’s fall campaign
Author: Ernest Luning - June 29, 2018 - Updated: July 5, 2018
Elsewhere at ColoradoPolitics.com, we take a look at the just-completed June primary and consider the winners and losers left in its wake. Two towering and political figures, Tom Tancredo and Bernie Sanders, don’t fit neatly into either category — they appear to have won some and lost some — but have done as much as anyone to define the state’s political landscape ahead of the November election.
Tancredo and Sanders weren’t on the ballot this month, but the polarizing politicians both loomed large over the races that were. Candidates up and down the ballot on both sides flocked to embrace them, and organizations aligned with the two took sides in primaries. But Tancredo and Sanders were judicious with their endorsements, each going all-in on just one statewide and one legislative candidate.
After launching a short-lived campaign for governor himself last year — ending his campaign in January, Tancredo said he couldn’t raise the money he believed would be necessary to win the general election — Tancredo threw his support behind Republican Walker Stapleton in April, ahead of the state assembly, where the term-limited state treasurer took top line on the way to a convincing 17-point win in the four-way primary.
Tancredo also endorsed Frank Francone, a founder of a local tea party group, in the GOP primary for Jefferson County’s House District 22, the seat held by Justin Everett, who narrowly lost his bid for the Republican state treasurer nomination. Two days after the primary, Francone conceded he’d lost by the slimmest of margins — less than 150 votes out of nearly 10,000 cast — to Colin Larson, a more traditional, moderate Republican.
Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who lost the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton, bestowed his endorsement on Thornton Democrat Joe Salazar in Colorado’s attorney general primary against Phil Weiser, a former dean of the University of Colorado Law School and Obama administration alum.
Emily Sirota, one of two Democrats running in southeast Denver’s House District 9, also won Sanders’ endorsement on her way to winning the primary over Ashley Wheeland by about 10 points the heavily Democratic seat. (Sirota and Wheeland together denied incumbent Democrat Paul Rosenthal a spot on the primary ballot at the district assembly in April.)
While voters appeared to have handed Tancredo and Sanders split decisions in their candidates’ respective primaries — at press time, Salazar trailed Weiser by a little under 1 percentage point, but said he was still in the race until the last vote had been counted — the priorities they outlined in their endorsements look a lot like the outlines of the two parties’ fall campaigns.
Tancredo said he decided to endorse Stapleton because he was the strongest opponent of so-called “sanctuary cities,” a signature issue for Tancredo and one that polling has shown tops the list of priorities for Republican voters.
“You look at the field and you say to yourself, you’ve got some very good and certainly qualified candidates, and some that aren’t,” Tancredo told Colorado Politics in an interview when there were still seven Republicans in the running for the nomination.
“From my point of view, there is one thing that can separate a candidate from the others — leadership on sanctuary cities. All the Republican candidates pay lip service in their opposition to it, but no one has been as upfront about it as Walker and put his money where his mouth is, in terms of the ads he’s running, and I believe it when he says it.”
Democrats and even some leading Republican political consultants warn that Stapleton could have damaged his prospects in the fall election by so visibly embracing Tancredo, who nominated Stapleton at the state assembly, and by keeping divisive immigration issues at the forefront of his campaign. His closing ad in the primary looked like one Tancredo might have run if he’d stayed in the race, featuring law-breaking undocumented immigrants.
But Stapleton’s supporters say the candidate is playing a winning hand by emphasizing public safety, a critical concern for the state’s swing voters.
During a recent campaign event for Sirota, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver told Colorado Politics what he meant when he entitled his campaign memoir “How Bernie Won: Inside the Revolution That’s Taking Back Our Country – and Where We Go from Here.”
“If you look at the issues that are being discussed in many of these primaries, we’re talking about Medicare for All” — Sanders-sponsored legislation to create a national single-payer health care system — “we’re talking about raising the minimum wage, we’re talking about climate change, camping finance reform,” Weaver said.
“These are all issues Bernie highlighted in his campaign, and the policy prescriptions we put forward at the beginning of the campaign were considered to be fringe and unobtainable. Over time, many of them have become articles of faith in the Democratic Party. It’s hard to find a Democratic candidate who doesn’t support a $15 minimum wage. The person doesn’t exist. In that sense, he’s winning the debate within the party.”
Even as Democratic candidates across the state have adopted elements of the Sanders platform, Republicans have been quick to brand their opponents as the Vermont senator’s acolytes and heirs.
Although Colorado voters won’t be asked explicitly to weigh in on Tancredo and Sanders this November, Democrats seem more than happy to run against Tancredo, while Republicans are already taking aim at Sanders.
Conservative stalwart Vincent Carroll summed up the sway the two figures could have on the election in a recent column about the governor’s race between Stapleton and Democratic nominee U.S. Rep. Jared Polis:
“In a previous life, Stapleton was a center-right politician and two-term state treasurer ideally positioned to take on a Boulder Democrat who embraces a quiver of Bernie Sanders-like positions. But for months Stapleton has been veering right to protect his flank and even welcomed hard-right firebrand Tom Tancredo to nominate him at the Republican state assembly. … Oh, Lord.”