July 1, 2007 1:09 PM
Back Roads Interview with Rep. Tom Tancredo
By M.E. Sprengelmeyer
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS
I can't remember when I first met Rep. Tom Tancredo.
He didn't used to be as memorable as he has become.
But I've known him since 1999, when I worked in my first remote outpost for the Rocky Mountain News -- the dearly departed Douglas County bureau on the southern end of his congressional district.
Since being shifted to "the other D.C. bureau" at the end of 2000, I have interviewed Tancredo in person or on the telephone at least a few times per month -- sometimes, up to five times in a single week depending on the "rhetoric alert level."
I've talked to him or heard him talk so many times that on Friday, when he was late for an appointment with the Professional Educators of Iowa in Des Moines, I jokingly offered to recite his stump speech for the handful of people waiting around a table. I offered up one obscure line he often uses with small crowds: "I've traveled farther to meet with fewer people."
When Tancredo finally showed up, he talked education and labor issues. And then, as he was bidding the educators farewell, he used almost the same words I had predicted -- causing giggles in the room.
I haven't talked to Tancredo much in recent months, when he has been focused on his cross-country barnstorming and I've been trying to chase the other 17 "next presidents of the United States" around Iowa.
But I've wanted to get caught up -- if only to figure out what he plans to do if his less-than 2 percent showing in the national polls does not turn into a stunning White House victory.
I sensed an opening last week in West Union, Iowa. In a speech to Republicans there, he used the words "if I'm re-elected...when I'm re-elected" in the part of his stump speech when he talks reverently about the congressional oath of office.
After the speech, I asked Tancredo if he wanted a lift to his next campaign stop in Allison.
He agreed, and for the next 70 miles he sat in the passenger seat of a 1996 Honda Accord with a broken air conditioner. The tape recorder was rolling the whole time -- except for a few brief moments when Tancredo asked to take a break.
What follows is a COMPLETE transcript of "The Back Roads Interview" on June 24 -- a few days before the U.S. Senate killed an immigration reform bill he vehemently opposed -- plus a collection of photographs I took chasing him to seven Iowa stops over a week's time.
Rather than trying to summarize one of our typical, all-over-the-map discussions, I'll offer you this uncensored glimpse inside the journalistic process. And I'd welcome your COMMENTS.
Please read on...
with M.E. Sprengelmeyer
of Back Roads to the White House
Interview on June 24, 2007
All photographs by M.E. Sprengelmeyer, copyright 2007 Rocky Mountain News.
PART 1: What are you doing?
SPRENGELMEYER -- We're driving down some lost, lonely highway in Iowa...
TANCREDO: Ah, look at that corn grow.
SPRENGELMEYER: So I have a question for you congressman, and that question is: What are you doing?
TANCREDO: Well, you're right to ask it as the first question because it is challenging. What I am attempting to do here is to advance a set of ideas, and in order to do that, to do it successfully, once you take the step when you say, 'I'm going to run for president,' then you've got to run for president. It's the irony, it's a really interesting political irony here. What propels you to make the decision is an issue. In this case, of course it's immigration. But once you take the step over the line and say, 'I'm running,' then you have to run for president. Because nobody's going to vote for you in order to just make a statement. And so, you run for president. It's an interesting, and as I say, very challenging thing. But in a way, M.E., that's what I believe does separate me from that crowd. And if we do well, it advances the issue dramatically. And, who knows. Strange things have happened.
SPRENGELMEYER: This is one thing I've wondered. The issue is on the table now. It could not be more in the public eye. It could not be in the headlines any more. You're getting the exposure on it. But if you look at the polls, you're still not creeping up. Do you look at those polls and say, 'What is going on?' What goes through your mind when you look at the polls?
TANCREDO: Well, I look and see essentially where all of us are on that second tier, and it doesn't move very much at all. The first tier candidates rise and fall, it seems like, quite a bit. But it seems like most of us on that second tier stay pretty much right where we are. I have a hope anyway, and belief, that's an indication, at least what's happening on that first tier there's not one of those candidates that has solidified his position. They're still looking. That means people like me will have a shot at this.
You do have to run. I mean you have to go through all of the motions that anybody else running for any other reason is running for. In order to make this work, I have to do it.
Now, you're really kind of asking, 'What's an exit strategy?' At what point do you say, 'OK, I've made the point,' and go on. Well, I have talked about that, and , the fear that we have is that if we don't go through as far as we can possibly go, wherever that leads us... You know, if Super Tuesday is the last great charge, well, OK. If whatever strange thing happens, some miracle occurs and we can continue on, you go as far as you can go, because first of all, that's what everybody who is supporting you believes that you are going to do. I can't just tell people, 'Send me money. Vote for me in straw polls,' all this stuff, because I'm going to stop, what? On February 2nd or something?' You can't do that. You can't even have it in your head. You can't have it in your mind, because otherwise that sets up this whole set of behaviors that follows that. You've got to go after this just as hard as you possibly can.
SPRENGELMEYER: Are you definitely, definitely in the race until February 6th, even if you're polling on February 6th where you are today?
TANCREDO: I don't think so, and here's one reason: because we will not be able to get any money to stay in the race for any length of time if that's the case. You know, you do have to have some money to make this thing work. Certainly, the immigration issue has helped out. In the last week, it would be actually, not this last week but the week before, we raised over $200,000 in one week, and much of it of course was as a result of what was happening in the Senate with that immigration bill. So... And that all can happen because people are mad and they see you as the champion. And who knows, maybe even if you're still polling at this level, they still see you as the champion, the person that's gonna make that issue all the way through, and you can continue to do it. I don't know. Certainly, if you don't have the money we can't even make the plane ticket, the plane fare to Dubuque.
PART 2: A pitchfork and a torch
SPRENGELMEYER: In the first two debates, obviously you were a little quieter in the first two debates than in the third one. In the third one, your voice changed, you had a certain urgency to you when it looked like the Senate bill was still on the table. And I hadn't heard that tone of voice from you in a long time. The other thing that seemed new at that appearance was that was the first time I remember you saying, talking about the 'time out.' What happened in the middle of the debate that made you start stressing the need to cut off legal immigration, not just illegal immigration.
TANCREDO: I don't recall it being anything that happened in the middle of the debate that made me do that, because the truth is I have introduced this bill for, I don't know how many years. It doesn't get any play. Nobody says, 'Did you just introduce a bill to have a time-out on immigration?' But we do it.
SPRENGELMEYER: But your urgency. You had a lot of urgency in your voice.
TANCREDO: You're right. That Senate bill really was on my mind a lot, and I really do consider it to be potential disaster. If it passes, M.E., and I've said this to (campaign adviser) Bay (Buchanan) a lot, I've talked to her about it and say, 'If this passes, Bay, I'm not sure what a president can do about it.' I don't know what you say. Are you going to say, 'This passed, but don't worry, I'll do this to change the situation.' We'd have to really think about it a long time as to what it is a president can do under those circumstances.
SPRENGELMEYER: If it doesn't pass are you just in there to be the veto to make sure it never gets past the president's desk?
TANCREDO: Certainly, that would be one thing. But hopefully to actually develop an agenda, and pass legislation that I believe most Americans would support. It's not just to stop, it's to advance an idea. As president I think I could do it because you've got this incredible phenomenon here. I've never seen anything like it. When was the last time, really. This is not a rhetorical question for you, I'm asking. When was the last time you can recall anything like what happened on this bill, in terms of the way the people responded with the calls and e-mails and faxes and letters?
SPRENGELMEYER: Senator Campbell talked about the day that the gay marriage amendment backers shut down his phones with something like six calls a minute, six or seven calls, as fast as they could take them.
TANCREDO: OK. I don't doubt there are issues that have provoked it. I have never seen anything like this. Wherever I go, the reaction of people... Of course it's selective because the people who come to hear me usually, not at an event like this, but if I just come into a state and say, 'Tom Tancredo is coming to such and such hall tonight.' Here comes a crowd. In California, they actually gave me at the end a pitchfork and a torch. I just couldn't get them on the plane to take them back.
SPRENGELMEYER: A pitchfork and a torch?
TANCREDO: Yeah, pitchforks and torches, like storming the castle walls, the whole thing. 'They'll be there with pitchforks and torches.'
SPRENGELMEYER: Is that your new logo?
TANCREDO: It should be. I love the symbolism of it. But, they were dedicated. And we raised a lot of money. And that's what I say. It goes back to the other question, M.E., about what do you do. Well, once you get into this, once people give you their money and their hope, you think...I've got to go as far as I can go. I can't let them down either.
PART 3: The converts
SPRENGELMEYER: The thing that surprises me when I've come to Iowa is that every single event I've attended -- and I've attended several dozen -- it comes up every time. But it doesn't always come up from your perspective. If it's a Democratic event, it will come up. But half the time it will come up on your side. Half the time it will come up on the other side. There's a third side, which is kind of a hybrid, which is people that want to crack down on employers, but they're sympathetic to the workers. They want a crackdown on the employers, but not on the people. It's a weird hybrid.
TANCREDO: You know, I'll take it. I'll take it in a heartbeat. That's the one thing that does go right across party lines, philosophic. The employers can be a villain here, they're either manipulating -- not manipulating, but they're exploiting people, you know, or they're just law-breakers that ought to be dealt with or whatever. People understand that. Believe me, as I've said over and over, if that's the answer to this that we can get through. If that's the one thing we can pass, I'd take it in a heartbeat. Because if you do not allow people to have jobs if they're here illegally, you've actually solved much of this problem.
SPRENGELMEYER: You look at the Republican field, and you talk about people making conversions on the road to Des Moines. Who has made those conversions? Tell me particularly who you think has totally changed.
TANCREDO: Romney. (Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney)
SPRENGELMEYER: Do you think he has changed and is on your side completely?
TANCREDO: I've got a brochure in the car I'll show you, that he just sent out. You could take Romney off, put Tancredo on, you'd never know. You'd also never know that a year ago he was supporting McCain-Kennedy (comprehensive immigration reform). In this, it's like the guy's strongest immigration advocate you ever saw in your life. And even when (former New York City Mayor Rudy) Giuliani talks about it, he doesn't talk about it in the same terms he talked about it when he was mayor, when he went to the mat to make sure the city stayed a sanctuary city. (Sen. John) McCain certainly has not changed at all. Even (Sen. Sam) Brownback. It's kind of funny. He was one of the biggest problems. (Rep.) Lamar Smith told me that in the 1996 bill he killed more of the good stuff than anybody else, Brownback did. He was a main opponent.
SPRENGELMEYER: Because he's from a farm state?
TANCREDO: It's that, but he has also got really this religious conviction on this issue. It's like a Christian duty... But he's starting to change. He didn't show up to the last votes on the immigration bill. He wasn't there. (NOTE: After this interview was conducted, Brownback was present last week to vote against advancing the immigration reform bill, which he now opposes. Opposition shelved the bill indefinitely -- perhaps killing it until the end of 2008.)
SPRENGELMEYER: You've named a few that you believe have changed to more sounding like you.
TANCREDO: Even (Rep.) Ron Paul. Ron Paul is a Libertarian, and for years was absolutely an open-borders guy. Now, the last few years it has been different. But originally man, he voted I think for a lot of the stuff, in the past amnesties and whatever.
SPRENGELMEYER: Before you decided to run for president, you said, 'I'm going to look and see, if no one else takes up this cause, I will run...'
TANCREDO: But remember what I said, M.E. Remember what I said. I said, I said this almost every time, 'not just with their rhetoric but with their heart.'
SPRENGELMEYER: So what do you think now...?
TANCREDO: It's all rhetoric.
SPRENGELMEYER: Are you the only one who with your heart believes what you believe? Or do you have a real ally in this?
TANCREDO: I think (Rep.) Duncan Hunter. I mean, look at his voting history: 100 percent. Down the line. now we have a difference of opinion on the war. Of course, he has voted for No Child Left Behind, all the big bills, because he was a chairman and, you know. In terms of this issue, he has been solid as a rock.
SPRENGELMEYER: In terms of this race, you still don't see anyone in this race that has all of the positions that you have?
TANCREDO: No, I don't.
SPRENGELMEYER: Do you think that means there's a purpose for you to keep running?
TANCREDO: It could. It could certainly be. I will tell you this, I can certainly feel comfortable being on a stage with those folks pointing out the differences.
PART 4: "I have this feeling"
SPRENGELMEYER: We talked about the polls before. Have you ever looked at the polls and said, ugh, should I get out now. Have they ever tempted you to get out at this stage?
TANCREDO: No, they have not. I don't know how to explain this, but you get a feel for it when you're out here. I have this feeling. And, you ask any candidate at that bottom tier that's always at the one, two, one, two percent, they're probably all going to tell you the same thing, that where they go the people love them, and so nobody's telling the pollster the right thing or whatever. But I am surprised by it and gratified by it, and I have this feeling that there's more there than does show up in the polls. But we will see. The August, the Straw Poll is just a little over a month away, and that certainly will be an indicator.
SPRENGELMEYER: Do you think it still has relevance (now that Giuliani and McCain have said they will sit out the Ames Straw Poll on Aug. 11)? Let's say you finish fifth now, is it going to be read the same way by you? Because it's certainly not going to be read the same way by the national media probably.
TANCREDO: No. Just beating McCain and Giuliani will not be the exciting thing it would have been otherwise, of course. But their names are still on the ballot, you know... I'm told they could even speak if they wanted to. They still get 15 minutes. So they could. I wouldn't imagine they'd do that, but they could. They'll get something, but we should be able to beat them (laughing), and you're right, it won't mean quite as much. It all depends how it lines up with all the rest. Where's (former Sen.) Fred Thompson going to be. Is he coming into the race? If so, what does that mean? Where is he on these issues? I know where he was. He got a C from (anti-illegal immigration group) Numbers U.S.A. He voted for every amnesty they ever had. He was at one point anyway supporting abortion in the first trimester. Once again, is he real? I never met the guy... So his involvement will certainly change everything. He will go right to the top immediately, or he will be below Romney immediately... I think. But Romney's only spent, probably, a million bucks out here if he has spent a dime. But Fred Thompson's got the star power like 'Oh, good now we've got somebody because I don't like any of these other guys, so there's the guy.' And so it would put him certainly at least at number two. Who knows, maybe number one. So then what you have to do is look at the rest of this pack, the people who are out here, are running, and try to figure out what it means, where you placed in that group. And so, if there are still 10 people on the ballot, and I'm number five, that might be OK. I would hope though, without those two, you could be a little better than that.
SPRENGELMEYER: Are you surprised by anybody's showing so far...someone on that list that you thought would be a bigger deal than they are, or vice-versa?
TANCREDO: Vice-versa. It's somebody who's a bigger deal than I thought he would be: Brownback. He's a bigger threat out here. He has got a better percentage of the vote in the polls than I would have thought, and he's got a very hard-core base: very religious, and Catholic. He has put together an interesting coalition of the Catholic vote, which here is significant by the way, and also the evangelical Christian, who sometimes don't line up the same way, but in this case they did. So I think he's a much more formidable opponent than I thought he would be. And (former Arkansas Gov. Mike) Huckabee had a lot of money, he'd be a really formidable opponent.
SPRENGELMEYER: What do you think of him?
TANCREDO: Very smart guy. Very nice guy. I like him. I wish he was on our side on our issue (immigration). He'd be one guy you could say, you know, if his heart was there, there's somebody I could go, 'Here's the keys. Thank you. It has been fun.' Because I think he is a person of character. He's just not with us on the issue (immigration).
PART 5: What about re-election?
SPRENGELMEYER: You said at one point during your speech, you said, you were talking about the oath, you take the oath for Congress, you
slipped in a phrase...
TANCREDO: I knew you were going to ask this!
SPRENGELMEYER: And you know the phrase that you slipped in, and it's on the tape...
TANCREDO: I didn't mean that I was running again for Congress.
SPRENGELMEYER: You know that's the way I would hear it.
TANCREDO: Of course. When I said it, I even, didn't I go around it and around it and say, 'If I...,' 'When I do...' I knew exactly what I had said -- not necessarily that you would also pick it up. But I knew I had said it wrong for the audience I was talking to. I'm not running for Congress. So what am I here talking about when I take the oath if I'm re-elected? When I'm re-elected.
SPRENGELMEYER: Here's what I've always thought. I want you to tell me if I'm wrong on this.
TANCREDO: You're wrong.
SPRENGELMEYER: No, no. I've thought that you've thrown yourself into the presidential race, and when you do that, like you said earlier in this interview, you have to go full force, you can't focus on anything else except that. For the donors who've sent you money and all that, you have to be focused on winning it, and you can't tell a reporter anything other than that. But I've always assumed that the presidential race, the nomination, is going to be wrapped up well before you would have to declare whether you're running for re-election again.
TANCREDO: Yeah, I think that's true.
SPRENGELMEYER: So I've kind of assumed that if you don't win the White House, you will be running for Congress again. Is that wrong?
TANCREDO: It is wrong to assume that is the thing that will happen.
SPRENGELMEYER: So it's still up in the air?
SPRENGELMEYER: Is that because the presidential race could last longer, or is it for another reason.
TANCREDO: No, it's for a totally different reason entirely. I have to have the fire in the belly, and this takes a lot of effort, what I'm doing here.
SPRENGELMEYER: You mean running for president.
TANCREDO: Yeah. But I'm telling you, it just wears on you just generally, physically, everything. You know. I mean, you... I just don't know whether I'll have the strength, the fire burning still. I just don't know. I don't know how this will affect that, so I don't know what to say about it. All I can tell you is it is certainly not a for sure thing either way. I can tell you that.
PART 6: Who owns the issue?
SPRENGELMEYER: Your best hope has always been if you can be the one candidate in the race that owns the illegal immigration issue, just like other candidates are trying to own a different issue, whether it's Iraq or terrorism or whatever. If you own one issue, that's always been your best hope. Do you think right now that you own it? Given the fact that at least with rhetoric, at least with rhetoric, even if you don't believe in them, at least with rhetoric a lot of other candidates are talking tough on immigration. Do you think at this point you own that issue?
TANCREDO: Great question. And the answer is, yes, well. The answer is that it's in flux. If I am not as well known as Mitt Romney, and you have $350 million of your own money, and I don't know how many millions in the bank, you can pretty much end up owning an issue, because that's what money can do in a race. So my task is to try and... That's why I thank God that in Iowa I can be competitive with him. I can't spend as much as he can here. But I can get enough information out in Iowa that says, 'Mitt Romney is not who he claims to be.' And because most people begin to see him as changing on all those other issues, and I think that's something every candidate is attacking him on, right. I'm not the only one attacking Romney for being a flip-flopper. And if he flip-flops on life, on guns, on immigration on whatever, then it's easy to show him... Then people get that idea in their mind, and it's caused not just by me, but by everybody running against him, because he's the guy everybody's shooting at, then it's easier to show that he doesn't own the issue. That's not true. You can't own it.
SPRENGELMEYER: Well, who owns the issue right now?
TANCREDO: Well, I think I do. I think I do. I think so. That would be an interesting poll to take: Who do you think would be toughest on immigration, or something like that, or illegal immigration. And see what people would say if you gave them all of us. See if it's just name (identification) alone or not. I don't know. That would be an interesting thing.
Believe me, if I thought that I had to fight this out on a national stage, I'd never be here. There's no... That's so out of the question, being able to have the money to do that. I just would never have made this decision. But for two states (Iowa and New Hampshire), I think I can get the message out. That's our whole thing. That's why I'm here so much... As we approach that (Iowa) straw poll, absolutely, this is going to be the place I'm going to be most of the time, and probably subsequent to that it will be the place until the caucus if, like I say, I do well enough to stay in.
PART 7: Bring on Salazar?
SPRENGELMEYER: I know you're only focusing on this and you don't even want to focus on the congressional race next year, but the concept of Tancredo vs. Salazar (in 2010) has sort of wafted in the air a bit lately. Why is that?
TANCREDO: I guess there are a lot of reasons, uh, not the least of which is I've probably told people, and you probably at some point in time, that you know, now that could get the juices flowing. The question I have in my own mind is whether I have to take that two-year hitch in the Congress where I can run. I mean, does it require me to be in Congress these next two years to run against him in a general election?
SPRENGELMEYER: (Former Congressman) Bob Schaffer will teach you that lesson next year.
TANCREDO: That's it. That's right, we'll probably see. And you know, hey, that, as I say, that could get the juices flowing, but....
SPRENGELMEYER: What gets the juices flowing?
TANCREDO: Oh, because, because he's just so wrong on these issues, and because I just would like that. I like that match-up. It would be fun to do battle on all this stuff, I think it would be great.
SPRENGELMEYER: Wouldn't that be a harder race for you to win, against a sitting Senator as opposed to a congressman from the 2nd District (Rep. Mark Udall, a Democrat running for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2008)?
TANCREDO: Yeah. Are you kidding. The whole state is changing, you know that. So yeah, it would be tougher...
SPRENGELMEYER: What makes the idea of going head-to-head with Ken Salazar -- be as specific as you can -- what makes that so (appealing)?
TANCREDO: Well because he has set himself up as the leader of the opposition on the issue, on the immigration issue. He says, 'I'm part of the group that put together this bill.' He's claiming all this ownership of the immigration issue on the other side. It just would be fun, it would be fun to have a battle with somebody who sees himself in that way and probably has every right to. He probably is all the things that he said in terms of having, participating in this thing.... It sounds like more fun.
SPRENGELMEYER: So if you're not president by then -- or maybe you'd resign the presidency just so you could run against Salazar -- is it pretty likely that if you're not elected president, likely that you're going to run against Sen. Salazar in 2010?
TANCREDO: No, I don't think I can say that in all honesty... It's 50-50 because, once again, you know, that's a long time. If I run for the House again and do that, that takes a lot out of you. You're talking about I'd be 64 years old. You're looking at another six years after that if you make it. Six years commitment, 70 years old, on the plane, back-and-forth, back-and-forth. That part doesn't have any allure whatsoever.
SPRENGELMEYER: The back-and-forth, back-and-forth part, is that part getting old because of the extra travel you're doing for the presidential race? Is it burning you out faster for the travel part of being a congressman?
TANCREDO: Yeah. I'm afraid so.
SPRENGELMEYER: Can you say whether that makes it..
TANCREDO: I can't because I just don't know, how soon will this end? Does it go all the way through? Maybe I'm president and I've got my own plane. Then you don't have to worry about it, right. Air Force One, I want to go when I want to go. There's no problems.
PART 8: "Why are you telling me that?"
SPRENGELMEYER: How has this (running for president) gone against what you thought it would be? Your expectation must have been something.
TANCREDO: I will tell you that I am so amazed at being able to put together a really good organization. I thought it was going to be me and whoever I could tap, saying, 'Please, would you be my chairman.' And I'd be doing this by myself saying, 'Could you send out a letter asking for some money?' But I mean... Because Bay is good at what she does. She is great. And Shelly Luzinski. It's this great organization on the ground. Really, I am impressed with it and think to myself, 'Gosh, this looks like a real campaign. These people are good.'
SPRENGELMEYER: There are candidates out there that travel around with highway patrol escorts them... There are candidates that have giant entourages, you know, giant advance teams that have sound systems at every town you come into.
TANCREDO: Really? Why are you telling me that?
SPRENGELMEYER: Their whole team with the sound team, the lighting team... You are more low-key than most. Or more low-key than some.
TANCREDO: Another thing I have going for me is I am a regular guy. I really get my hair cut in a place that costs $15. I'm not trying to construct an image here. So having all that entourage really is the antithesis of what I'm all about anyway. And I think it comes through. I think when I speak to people, they get that. Now, whether they then say... This is the part that I've always wondered about. I'll leave a crowd. Everyone's applauding. 'Yeah, he's wonderful. He's great.' You know. And then you think, 'They all love me.' Now, do they think I can be president? You don't know.
Bay (Buchanan) always talks about (her brother) Pat (Buchanan) gave the best speech of his life at the Iowa Caucus. Everyone went absolutely wild. And he lost miserably. Because all the minds were made up. He's a wonderful guy. Everybody loved everything he said. But 'he can't win,' 'I've already committed,' whatever all the rest of that is.
And that's another interesting part of this whole deal that has been very surprising. That is when you walk away and you have this ovation, and you think, 'Man!' You call up and say, 'Did every one of them sign up?' They go, 'No, we got 42.' I think 'Geez, I thought we'd do better.' That's a funny, surprising part. It's like the guy that came up to me (from a competing campaign). Here, he put his card in my pocket. 'Hope we beat the crap out of you, but, man, I'd love to work for you.' That's what he told me. That's what he said.
SPRENGELMEYER: When you were dishing out the fruit salad?
TANCREDO: That's exactly what he said: 'Hope we beat the crap out of you, but I'd love to work for you.'
PART 9: Confronted over the fruit salad
(BACKGROUND: At the June 24 event in West Union, Tancredo took a shift in the food-service line, dishing out ambrosia fruit salad to folks attending a Republican candidates forum.)
SPRENGELMEYER: Have you had any of those moments where you go to the wrong town, or some disaster happened to you?
TANCREDO: I have gotten to places and had to go buy things. If I pack, it's a disaster and I end up having to buy a lot of stuff, including like pants, underwear. If my wife packs, it's perfect. Not only is it packed right, but she puts tissue paper between everything when she folds a shirt. I end up with a mound of tissue paper all over the floor when I unpack at the hotel room. Then I don't have to iron it. Right now, I have to iron. Every time I unpack I iron. Did you know every hotel room has the same iron. Every chain, same iron. That's good, because I know where to put the water in.
SPRENGELMEYER: I wouldn't know. And my haircuts cost $15 less than you.
TANCREDO: I had to go the other day in Iowa (to get a haircut). Where was I? Mason City...
SPRENGELMEYER: I know the place because it's on your blog. See, someone watches that.
TANCREDO: Do they have that girl on there that grew up in Kenya? Isn't that cool? Astounding. I'm thinking, holy mackerel.
SPRENGELMEYER: What happened?
TANCREDO: We stopped in Mason City, Iowa. I stopped because I saw a sign that said "home of Meredith Wilson.' I know he did the Music Man based on his home town, the idea of his home town. We started walking around. One of my guys, Mick, who had on a Tancredo sticker was walking through, and this lady sees him and says, 'Come here...'
SPRENGELMEYER: And where is she from?
TANCREDO: Kenya. And she starts telling him, 'This guy is fantastic. Did you hear what he said about Miami? Absolutely true.' So Mick comes running over goes, 'This lady, come here, this lady in this booth, from Kenya, she really likes you.' So (webmaster) Mike ... was there with his little camera jobby and so he caught it on tape. I came up and said 'Hi,' and she goes 'Oh!' And all these people were trying to buy stuff... For one thing I was thinking, oh, this poor woman, she's got this lady standing there going, 'Hey, do you mind, I would like to buy this.' And she was paying absolutely no attention whatsoever. She wants to talk about this immigration thing. Oh my God, it was wonderful.
SPRENGELMEYER: Have you gotten the opposite anywhere?
SPRENGELMEYER: No one has come up to you and said (bad things)...
TANCREDO: No, it has never happened. I assume it is because they are thinking it, but they just, you know... I know plenty of them are thinking it. But no, I have never had anybody come up and do that.
This lady next to me when I was spooning out the ambrosia. She was doing the cole slaw. Somebody in the line said, 'You keep it up on immigration.' She said, 'My grandmother came here across the St. Lawrence Seaway, and she probably was illegal. Am I?' So she was sort of nasty. I said, 'When did she come?' She said, 18-something. I said, 'No, she wasn't illegal. There was really no such thing as illegal.' The (19)20s is when we actually started the idea of countries, so many people coming from certain countries. The cole slaw lady, that was like the most negative thing... Not really. You go to events, you've got people with signs. Sometimes have to wear bullet-proof vests and have to have a swat team holding back a crowd. That's certainly happened. But nobody just walking down the street stops me and says, 'You SOB on this issue I don't like you.'
SPRENGELMEYER: Don't take this the wrong way, but you haven't needed a swat team to hold back a lot of crowds yet in Iowa. You go places where people don't know you yet, still.
TANCREDO: Well, they do, they know me. No... Absolutely, Iowa and New Hampshire are not like Southern California. That's where we've had these other incidents. Coronado, Calif., some places in Arizona have been dicey. ..
(BACKGROUND: Tancredo recently campaigned by motorcycle in Waterloo, Iowa. He wore no helmet and as he drove down crowded streets, nobody seemed to recognize him.)
SPRENGELMEYER: What I'm talking about is: Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback on a motorcycle driving just on the public streets in ...Waterloo would probably get stopped a little more.
TANCREDO: I don't think so. If you've got a big entourage around him, yeah, that would draw attention to it. But him just there on a motorcycle, I don't think people would pay much attention to it. I suppose you're right. We'll have to get somebody in charge of entourages.
SPRENGELMEYER: There are those candidates that create that aura, hoping it will catch on. I see it every day.
TANCREDO: I'm just a regular guy. That's my aura.
PART 10: Are we having fun yet?
TANCREDO: Let me tell you something funny that did happen out here the day after I announced. I announced on talk radio, made a big, damn deal about announcing on talk radio. I'm on talk radio because talk radio brought me to the party, you know. That day I did 26 shows. Next day, did 12. By that time, we had press all over the place. All the TV cameras were there in the studio in Iowa. Pretty big deal. I'm going down the list. There's a station in Springfield, Illinois. I call it. 'Hello, Congressman. We want to tell you about this immigration problem we're having here.' I go through this long thing. We get to the end and the guy says, 'You ought to run for president.' And I said, 'OK, I will. Just because of you...' That was discouraging.
SPRENGELMEYER: So at this point has it been the greatest experience of your life, aside from obvious family things... In terms of your career, has it been the greatest thing ever, or has it been disappointing, has it been harder, has it been more fun, less fun? How would you describe the experience of running for president? Issues aside...
TANCREDO: I would say, we're still not having any fun here.
SPRENGELMEYER: What would be fun? Winning only?
TANCREDO: If I could just eliminate the travel part. Here's what would be fun, if I could do what (former Gov.) Tommy Thompson does: come out here for weeks, because you've got no other job. Or if I was rich enough to have my own plane. If I could just get rid of that part of this, man, this part is fun. It is. I enjoy this. I especially enjoy the house party things. I can still get up for it, enjoy it. But the travel part is a real bummer... Your sleep hours are always off. Airports, I'm beginning to hate them, the waits, the smells. Anything with an airport anymore is getting to be so unpleasant. You know, I got to, where was it, Hartford, yesterday to come here... I walked in, I was the only person going through security. There were about nine people standing there. I said, 'Is there anyplace to get something to eat? ' It was six o'clock. (They said) no, everything's closed down. There's one little place up here on the terminal. It was the last plane going out of that terminal, the one I was on, so there's only like 40 people entirely. And I actually loved it. It was wonderful to go right through security...
(As one cassette tape runs out, Tancredo talks about how fun it would be if he could live in Iowa and drive around in his own car. He continues on the new tape.)
TANCREDO: I could periodically enjoy a nice cigar on the road here. If somebody else is driving even, I could do my New York Times crossword puzzle, enjoy the scenery and go place to place, and not worry, tomorrow I've got to be in Washington, or New Hampshire, or I've got to be in California for a fundraiser. And I know I'm going to have to go through this airport hassle so much, and I know my sleep pattern is going to be off by three hours if I'm going backwards, and I'm going to feel miserable the next day. All those things, they are a part of this. I can't tell you they're not.
PART 11: Tough on family, "grueling" on him
SPRENGELMEYER: How is your family taking it?
TANCREDO: My grandson, William, says to me the other day -- we're at Angie's Italian restaurant in Littleton. Tiny little place. And he says to me, 'Grandpa, those people over at that table, they recognize you.' And he was just beaming because they recognized Grandpa because he was running, and all the kids in his school know about it. William is nine. It was just so cute. And Jackie (his wife), it's hard. She gave an interview not too long ago and said, 'This does push all the buttons, this process.' Being home, being here. She gets very upset if she doesn't get a copy of the schedule far enough in advance to make a plane reservation. The other thing is, I'm the type of person who will try to keep everybody happy. Got to keep the campaign happy. Got to keep the wife happy. That works on you, too. So far, I can't complain with the way anyone in my family has dealt with this. Jackie has been a great trooper and sort of enjoys part of it. She'll come up on stage now when we're taking pictures at the end. She would never do that before. She says the same thing, though, I guess it was at the Arapahoe County Lincoln Day Dinner when I spoke. She said, 'You know, I was sitting there listening, thinking to myself, what are you going to do if you're not doing this? If you're not in this arena, if you're not impassioned by these things?' I said, 'I know, it's going to be tough sometimes.' But thank God we do have another life that we enjoy.
SPRENGELMEYER: What would you do without all this stuff?
TANCREDO: It would be hard, I tell you, to be completely out of public life. Now, there's a lot of ways you still can participate and not be on a plane every week. There's talk radio. Who knows? I'm sure I would always yearn for and try to be part of the debate on topics of interest to me, because of course that's what I've lived on for a long time. The enjoyment of that, along with my family, that's really what makes my life. So I always think to myself, I know there's life outside of the Congress, and, I can concentrate on the things... Just going to my grandchildren's baseball games, being able to go to every single one of them, or football games. I know that sounds silly to you, but to me would be this great, wonderful thing. I would so much enjoy it. Most people say, 'Good, when I retire, good I can travel.' I have absolutely no desire to do that. I must admit to you, that's not part of it. 'Oooh, just get on a plane and go somewhere.'
SPRENGELMEYER: That's the question you didn't want to talk so much about -- you know, the Congress question. It sounds like you're tired.
TANCREDO: I am.
SPRENGELMEYER: It sounds like this presidential thing is taking some years out of you.
TANCREDO: Let me tell you, if anyone tells you it's not a grueling experience, they're lying to you. I don't care how even young they are or whatever. You can make it easier. Like I say, if I had private planes, the great entourages you're talking about. You land, you end up in the best possible places, there are no glitches. You can make it easier on yourself. But nobody who's doing it the way I'm doing it... I've talked to (Rep.) Duncan Hunter about it. And even on him you can see it. And Ron Paul. It does wear on you.
PART 12: "And what are you doing?"
SPRENGELMEYER: One last question: Are you glad you are here? Are you glad you're here?
TANCREDO: Yeah, yeah. I do feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. Yeah. That is true.
SPRENGELMEYER: And what are you doing?
TANCREDO: I hope I'm advancing a set of ideas. That's why I got into this thing. That's why I'm going through the process. They are important to me. You're a seasoned reporter who has for years heard politicians say things like that. But I'm telling you, it's the truth. Otherwise, I couldn't do this.
All photographs by M.E. Sprengelmeyer