July 11, 2007 5:33 PM
The rivalry to watch ***UPDATED YET AGAIN***
UPDATED at the end, and in the COMMENTS section.
View image Photos by M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Sen. Sam Brownback vs. Rep. Tom Tancredo
As of today, there is exactly one month until the Iowa Republican Party's non-binding but all-important Ames Straw Poll.
From now until then, pay no attention to the so-called top tier candidates.
The ones to watch are the folks on the bubble -- the second-tier contenders who are still trying to break through in the polls and survive as THE conservative alternative to the "Rudy McRomneys" and the political actors to be named later.
It started last month and flared again on Wednesday.
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for a new story in the quaint, old-fashioned paper version of the Rocky Mountain News.
Here's how the Brownback-Tancredo rivalry started...
The Brownback-Tancredo rivalry goes back longer than anybody has noticed.
Both men are considered fairly solid social conservatives.
Brownback is best known for his family values platform, and for his outspoken opposition to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. In the presidential contest, he's also promoting an opt-in version of the flat tax that folks would be allowed to choose as an alternative to the traditional, more cumbersome tax code.
Tancredo is best known for his crusade against illegal immigration and anything even vaguely resembling "amnesty." In the presidential contest, he's also stressing his traditional conservative values, opposing abortion, tax increases, big government and so forth.
In the Republican field, Tancredo and Brownback would seem to be closer than, say, either one of them and an avowed moderate like Republican front-runner former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
But since they -- along with others like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- are competing for the same, more conservative segment of the Republican base, they represent the biggest threat to one another.
More than a year ago, I remember Brownback and Tancredo litterally brushing past one another and making zero eye contact at a would-be-candidates' forum at the Family Research Council headquarters in Washington, D.C.
But that cold war has turned into a hot war in recent weeks.
Tancredo has long been suspicious of Brownback's position on illegal immigration, ever since he co-sponsored the original version of a White House-backed guest-worker plan and comprehensive immigration reform (S. 2611 in 2006).
Since then, Brownback has toughened his immigration position and voted against moving forward on a revised version of comprehensive immigration reform. (Columnist Morton Kondracke recently included Brownback in a group he called the "cowardice caucus" -- meaning, Senators who voted for similar legislation in 2006, but against it this year.)
In a recent interview with Back Roads to the White House, Tancredo ripped Brownback (among others) for his immigration stands. (In that same interview, Tancredo said that of all the candidates in the crowded Republican field, he was most surprised by Brownback's ability to build a strong coalition of evangelical Christians and Catholic conservatives, making him a surprisingly formidable rival. For many reasons, the 8,000-word transcript is a must read.)
Tancredo lashed out at Brownback in other media, too.
And then, last week, Brownback ripped back.
His campaign sent out a press release hitting Tancredo in a way intended to undermine him with a critical element of the GOP base: abortion opponents in the "pro-life" movement.
In it, Brownback said that Tancredo "has accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Dr. John Tanton, a founder of a major Planned Parenthood network."
Tanton is a well-known figure among Tancredo watchers, but not for the reason Brownback cited. Most often, Tancredo's most outspoken critics cite his financial support from Tanton, a major financier of various immigration reform groups, to claim that Tancredo is linked to the more extreme elements of the movement.
By invoking Tanton's founding of the Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood Association, combined with his contributions to Tancredo, he is trying to undermine whatever support Tancredo might have gained with a recent standing ovation at a forum co-sponsored by the Iowa Christian Alliance.
Brownback wasn't backing down from the criticism on Wednesday, when he spoke to reporters after a luncheon appearance in Des Moines, Iowa.
"He has a large donor that has given heavily and supported heavily Planned Parenthood, pro-abortion causes, and we called on him to give those funds back, or to contribute them to a crisis pregnancy center. If he's pro-life on these issues, I think that's something that he should step up and do. It's the donor that we were pointing out... I think that is a significant issue and it's one that he can rectify."
Tancredo's campaign responded with a statement from his senior political adviser, Bay Buchanan:
"Those who contribute to the Tancredo campaign are supportive of Congressman Tancredo and his principles and values; in no way does this suggest he endorses theirs. As for the Congressman’s pro-life record, it is unassailable. What is far more interesting to the people of Iowa is Senator Brownback’s complete embrace of massive amnesty for illegal aliens."
So there you have it.
With one month to go before the Ames Straw Poll, which everybody figures will winnow the wheat from the chaff in the Republican field, look away from the front-runners if you can. Keep an eye on the lower tier.
That's where the real elbows will be thrown, because for some of those campaigns, it's already a life or death struggle.
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Photo by M.E. Sprengelmeyer
Brownback and Tancredo met on Saturday night in Odebolt, Iowa, at a "homecoming" dinner for local congressman Steve King, a Tancredo look-alike and sound-alike.
It was a very conservative crowd that cheered loudly when Brownback talked about wanting to become the president who appoints the U.S. Supreme Court justice who overturns the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade, then cheered just as loudly when Tancredo trumpeted his crusade against illegal immigration.
CLICK HERE for a new story in the quaint, old-fashioned paper version of the Rocky Mountain News.
Brownback, who survived a melanoma scare in 1995, mentioned his pledge to end deaths by cancer within 10 years. After Brownback finished his remarks and left the community center, Tancredo used part of his speech to denounce big government and tell the crowd they shouldn't expect government to do everything for them.
As president, Tancredo said, "I will not be able to cure every disease that you have."
Brownback and Tancredo didn't let the audience see anything but smiles and good manners when they were sitting side-by-side, but they criticized each other in separate interviews there.
So the spat continues down in the second tier.
View imagePhoto by M.E. Sprengelmeyer
View imagePhoto by M.E. Sprengelmeyer
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AN EARLIER UPDATE: Tancredo got a chance to poke fun at all his Republican rivals on Thursday, when he was the lone Republican to appear on stage at an NAACP candidates forum in Detroit.
The Free Press has one instant story HERE. Tancredo drew laughs referring to the empty podiums next to him: "Do you think we should wait a few minutes to see if these other guys show up?"
The newspaper reports that the audience applauded Tancredo, not because they support his views, but because he cared enough to make an appearance.
We're watching the live web-cast of the Democratic forum right now.
After Tancredo had departed and a full slate of Democrats took the stage, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who is Hispanic, referred to Tancredo, "who I think said he wants to send me back to Mexico."
While the web-cast was still ongoing, Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa countered via e-mail: "I think Tom would rather (Richardson) just stay in New Mexico."