Tancredo’s crusade isn’t over | VailDaily.com

Tancredo’s crusade isn’t over

M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Rocky Mountain News
Vail CO, Colorado
Kevin Wolf / Special to the DailyRep. Tom Tancredo, in his office in the Rayburn House Office Building, doesn't plan to sit back when his term ends.

WASHINGTON, Colorado – Take your pick: farewell or good riddance. But outgoing Rep. Tom Tancredo might not be leaving the political limelight for long.

“I’m not done with politics,” the controversial, immigration-reform firebrand declared last week, sitting in a crowded cafeteria two floors below where his staff was packing up his old congressional office.

After five terms in Congress – two more than his discarded term-limits pledge – Tancredo said he’s not finished making noise about conservative causes, including his crusade to stop illegal immigration.

That could mean working for an immigration-focused think tank. It could mean some talk radio work, or a behind-the-scenes role in Colorado Republican politics. Or it could mean throwing his hat into the ring for another campaign of his own – perhaps as early as 2010.

Though he doesn’t have any firm plans, Tancredo took out his Blackberry and proudly displayed a note from one of his oldest friends telling him that family members already were working on a “Tancredo for Governor” campaign for 2010.

‘Most alluring’ option

He laughed about it but admitted it is the “most alluring” of any of the political possibilities.

Then again, Tancredo knows Democratic foes might be licking their chops, preparing to portray him as a xenophobe or, worse, too extreme to win a statewide office.

“Let me put it this way,” Tancredo said. “If I were on the opposite side and a candidate like me were seeking office, and if I were advising his opponent, I’d be saying, ‘Man, what a field day we would have . . . ‘ “

Such is the reputation Tancredo has built in his time as an admitted “bomb-throwing” back-bencher in Congress.

With the end of the lame-duck congressional session in Washington, D.C., Tancredo heads home not as some venerable elder statesman, not as a powerful committee chairman and not as a universally beloved figure – not even in his own Republican caucus.

But he’s hardly anonymous, either.

His name has become a sort of shorthand within the national immigration debate, meaning one thing to his fans and another to his critics.

Stretching the limits

Google “Tancredo” and there are hundreds of articles that either credit him with advancing a hard-line position opposing illegal immigration or accuse him of intolerance that has made it harder for the Republican Party to claim its old “big-tent” credentials.

Either way, Tancredo and his defenders said they doubt the country would be talking about securing the U.S. borders and cracking down on illegal immigrants without his loud, incessant demands.

“I think of other members of Congress who accomplished great things legislatively because they were able to work the system, get on the right committees, kiss a lot of posterior,” Tancredo said. “They were able to achieve positions of power and were able to do things in a legislative sense that changed a nation. There are relatively few of them, to tell you the truth . . . Most people go through here without making much of a dent, but when they’re gone, you have to ask, ‘Did it matter?’ “

The way Tancredo figures it, someone had to stretch the “outer limit of the debate,” to give other conservatives the cover to talk about the immigration-control issue while still arguing that at least they weren’t as extreme as Tancredo.

“Look at all the latitude I’ve given them between the 50-yard line and where I set up the goal post,” he said with a laugh.

But is that a legacy? One of his past opponents, Democrat Ken Toltz, doesn’t think so.

“Over the years, Tancredo did succeed in escalating the rhetoric, making it more acceptable for like-minded talk radio and other media personalities to notch up the fear level to even greater heights,” he said.

As for a legacy, “He and his immigration caucus accomplished nothing, other than leading his Republican colleagues over the cliff by their acceptance and adoption of overheated, confrontational rhetoric,” Toltz said.

Ana Navarro, an adviser to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, told McClatchy Newspapers that overheated rants from Tancredo and others helped undo years of Republican Party efforts to reach out to Latino voters.

With all the focus on Tancredo’s fiery immigration talk, some of his backers often complained that other parts of the congressman’s agenda were ignored, such as his work on international issues or fighting bloated government.

“They didn’t realize what I was trying to accomplish,” Tancredo said. “I could not have done what I did on this without becoming a one-issue guy.”

Advice for successor

Tancredo’s 6th District seat is about to be filled by Secretary of State Mike Coffman, who’s pledging to start his congressional career seeking more compromise than confrontation.

Still, Tancredo expects Coffman to be strong on immigration issues, although doesn’t expect him to try to match his own fervor.

Tancredo’s advice for Coffman is the same he tried to apply: “Find your niche. Be passionate.”

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