June 6, 2007 11:53 AM
M.E. Sprengelmeyer on Tom Tancredo's "Save America" campaign and the GOP presidential debate
Mark_Wolf(Q) Does Tom Tamcredo's "Save America" campaign come with a superhero costume? It cries out for a cape and tights.
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) Well, the political action committee he founded, Team America, had a superhero/save-the-world movie by the same name -- WITH PUPPETS! So you might be on to something. Apparently, he doesn't think it takes a cape. He thinks it needs a giant ad on the front page of the Drudge Report. Today, if you click there, you're greeted by the blaring (ad) headline: "Tom Tancredo: Defeat Amnesty Politicians," with a link to his save-America petition. After his relatively quiet appearances in the first two televised debates, Tancredo is now getting louder.
Mark_Wolf(Q) What is behind the Save America campaign?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) Tancredo describes the immigration reform legislation now pending in the U.S. Senate as something that would "destroy" America. So yesterday, he announced that he is shifting his campaign. Instead of spending every weekend in either Iowa or New Hampshire -- two states where long-shot candidates like him MUST do well to gain momentum -- he will be traveling around the country to districts where he'll challenge fellow Republican lawmakers to oppose the legislation. If they don't, he says he'll actively work for their re-election defeats. Challenging fellow Republicans is nothing new for Tancredo. In 2006, his political action committee (led by the woman who's now running his presidential campaign, Bay Buchanan) targeted a Utah Republican, Rep. Chris Cannon. Cannon won anyway, but not without a more expensive primary fight. Yesterday, Cannon's spokesman scoffed at Tancredo's latest threat, saying Tancredo's showing in the polls -- below the margin of error -- indicates he isn't as mighty as he'd like to be. It will be interesting to see how much traction Tancredo gets on this latest gambit. Clearly, he has decided that the legislation should be his number one focus now. And in a sense, this move lets everyone in on a not-so-secret secret: running for president is a lark but he's way more intent on stopping an immigration plan that he believes is "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Don't I recall that most Republican immigration hardliners, such as J.D. Hayworth in Arizona, got whipped in last year's election?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) That's the view of Cannon's office. Still, you'd have to say Tancredo has had some effect on shaping the immigration debate, if only because it's hard to find any other Republican presidential contenders (besides Sen. John McCain of Arizona and perhaps Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas) who are willing to say good things about the compromise/comprehensive immigration reform legislation now pending in the Senate.
Mark_Wolf(Q) He's going to be about as welcome by fellow Republicans as he is at the White House.
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) Tancredo hasn't been on some fellow Republicans' Christmas card lists for some time now. He used a roundabout way last night to separate himself from President Bush -- by reminding people that White House political adviser Karl Rove once told him not to "darken the door" of the White House. (Rove supposedly told him that after Tancredo was quoted in a Washington Times interview saying the president and the congress could have blood on their hands if they didn't seal the porous borders and it led to another terrorist attack. A few minutes after Rove's call to Tancredo, he called me, anxious to brag about being dissed by such a big White House figure. Ever since then, it's the story he loves to tell the most. Why? Because here he is, a once little-known member of Congress, often dismissed by critics as a "back-bencher," who's in a toe-to-toe fight with a big fish. After all these years, I'm surprised there are still people in the country who haven't heard the story.) So in a meandering response to a question last night, he said that if he's elected president, George Bush would not darken the door of the Tancredo White House. As I said while live-blogging last night, I wasn't sure people got the reference immediately, but I predicted it would get a lot of attention after-the-fact. And it did in newspapers this morning.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Do you get the feeling immigration a non-negotiable litmus test for Republican primary voters?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) For a segment of the population (Tancredo's backers) it is non-negotiable. But for another segment of Republican voters, it might be negotiable. I can tell you that immigration comes up at every single presidential forum here in the first caucus state of Iowa. However, you might be surprised that it doesn't always come up from the hard-line point of view. It's hard to tell what proportion of people consider it non-negotiable and what proportion favor a compromise like the one Sen. John McCain is promoting (with the White House, other Republicans and many Democrats). But there's no doubt about it. It's a hot, hot, hot topic that will be a factor in the presidential race until it's decided in the Congress -- and maybe long after that.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Chuckled when I saw the boxing glove icons you used while live-blogging last night's Republican debate. What's the backstory?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) I wish everyone would go to "Back roads to the White House" and help me figure out who won the debate. We have some heavyweights in the comments section now, and I'd love to get more. I know a boxing reference isn't all too original when it comes to writing about a debate, but it seemed appropriate going into the debate, when I expected the three perceived front-runners, to be used as punching bags. The debate turned out differently than I imagined. I thought McCain and Romney would go at each other more fiercely. But Romney called McCain his "friend" and didn't seem to want to engage, McCain decided to take shots (polite ones) at Giuliani, and then all the front-runners took jabs at Tancredo, who seemed happy to be in another scrap. Go to the Back roads to the White House blog and tell me who you think won the brawl.
Dave_R(Q) Hi there - you know, our polling at the University of Iowa in late March indicated significant support for the "earned citizenship" approach more or less included in the Senate bill - and this was of both parties.
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) I've been watching the University of Iowa's polling. It's interesting how the immigration issue plays in Iowa. It's not as black-and-white an issue as some would imagine. In Marshalltown, Iowa, about an hour out of Des Moines, they had a major raid at a Swift plant on the same day a plant in Colorado was raided. The news coverage at the time focused on immigrant families in Iowa that were torn apart. In my trips to Marshalltown, I've sensed a surprising amount of sympathy for these families from non-immigrant residents. Thanks for the question, Dave. (David Redlawsk is a faithful contributor to the Back roads to the White House site. Google him. He has lots to say.)
Dave_R(Q) Not sure if things have moved int he two months since then, though, since the issue has become more front and center. What do you think?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) I'm not sure. To put a finger in the wind, I watch the positions of various Republican candidates, from Romney to Sen. Sam Brownback, et al. On the stump, all candidates -- Democrat and Republican -- say they're against "amnesty." But you have to listen to their words very, very closely to see if they're essentially on Tancredo's side or closer to McCain's side.
Mark_Wolf(Q) Reports this morning are that Giuliani is going to skip the Iowa straw poll. What's that about?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) His campaign has a conference call this morning to explain. Iowa is a tricky place. A person can "win" or "lose" by meeting or failing to meet expectations. Giuliani (and Clinton on the Democratic side) have a lot at risk in Iowa, since they're considered national front-runners even while they're both currently in third place in the Iowa Poll (a poll that the Des Moines Register has been doing for more than half a century). If top tier candidates think they might lose Iowa anyway, some are tempted to say, oh, the heck with it. I won't compete there, I'll let everyone know I'm not even trying to compete there, and shift the focus to big states elsewhere. In recent weeks, Clinton has had to downplay an internal memo that suggested she skip Iowa. She says she is indeed going to try to compete here. But still, she's in third place in the Iowa poll and is taking a chance.
Dave_R(Q) One other question, then I have to get back to reading a dissertation! I came in late, so if I missed this, I apologize. I'm curious though what you think of the apparent difference in tone between the Republican and Democrat debates - it appears the Dems are moving along the path they often do, becoming rather willing to attack each other, while for the moment the Republicans are adhering a bit more to Reagan's famous 11th Commandment of not speaking ill of they fellow Republican. Are you seeing this too, or am I misreading something? How long can the Republicans keep up the nice-nice?
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(A) I don't think I necessarily agree, David. Romney and McCain have been going at each other's throats -- though not much last night. Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore decries the three-headed beast named "Rudy McRomney." Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is already taking shots at that "actor" Fred Thompson, the former senator who's considering the race. And many of them -- Tancredo the most loudly -- are saying all sorts of nasty things about the biggest Republican in the country, President George W. Bush. If it's playing "nice-nice" to say you don't want your party's leader to darken the door of the White House once you're elected president, well I'd hate to see things turn more negative.
M.E._Sprengelmeyer(P) Well, folks. A Delaware radio station, WDEL, wants to talk to me about Rep. Tom Tancredo (a sign of his growing fame), so I'm afraid I have to say so long now. Be sure to go to the Back roads to the White House and critique my funny pictures and live-blogging. Thanks a bunch, Mark. This is always fun.