EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Third-party candidate for Colorado governor Tom Tancredo faced a somewhat hostile crowd at the Eagle County Building on Saturday as local conservatives accused him of ruining the chance for Republican candidate Dan Maes to win the November election.
Tancredo, a former congressman, was mostly on the defensive as about 45 local residents and members of the Vail Valley 9.12 Project asked why he would enter the governor's race, especially when he made comments late last year about how third-party candidates only function as a derailment for Republican candidates.
The Vail Valley 9.12 Project is part of a nationwide movement of constitutional conservatives.
Vail Valley 9.12 Project's organizer Michael Schneider kicked off the event by talking about a letter Tancredo wrote to 9.12 members and Tea Party activists last December that said third-party candidates split conservative votes and guarantee the re-election of liberals and socialists.
"You will split the vote and (John) Hickenlooper will become the governor," Schneider said. "Be a hero, be a champion of the conservative causes that you've always been - drop out of the race and come back to the conservative party."
Tancredo listened to Schneider's opening statements, often nodding when he agreed with facts about his own words from last December. When it was his turn to speak, he explained that circumstances often change in politics.
"Commitment to a party has not necessarily been my strong suit," Tancredo said. "I'm much more committed to a philosophy - conservatism."
Tancredo said he support Republican Scott McInnis when he wrote that letter last December, not knowing a plagiarism scandal would make McInnis "unelectable" just before the Republican primary.
Tancredo said he could never support Maes, who won the primary against McInnis, and therefore can't support the Republican ticket.
"Circumstances changed," Tancredo said. "They haven't for a lot of you because you still have faith in your candidate. I don't. Never have."
Immigration emerged as the other main theme of the meeting. Tancredo's stance on immigration is ultra-conservative, and he criticized Maes for once supporting amnesty, something he said Maes denies.
Maes has said recently that he does not support amnesty. Schneider told Tancredo that Maes is for Arizona's immigration law and also for E-Verify, an Internet-based system that allows businesses to check the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.
Tancredo said immigration isn't the only issue he feels strongly about, but that it's part of the problem within many other issues such as health care and education.
"This issue crosses party lines," Tancredo said. "I will attract some votes that way."
Schneider disagrees that Tancredo can run a campaign that does anything other than ruin Maes' chance at winning.
There were some Tancredo supporters at the meeting, but Schneider said the 9.12 project and Tea Party activists are behind Maes.
Tancredo believes his candidacy will bring more Republicans to the polls, and he also believes, he said, that he has a chance at winning.
"I have to raise a significant chunk of money," Tancredo said. "That is, right now, my greatest challenge."
Schneider said 9.12 members and Tea Party activists won't give up on trying to get Tancredo to drop out of the race. His candidacy is destroying the chance for Colorado to become a red state again, Schneider said.
"It's a sad thing because the state is going to go down the drain (if Hickenlooper wins)," Schneider said.
Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or