Tancredo reckons with Tea Party phenomenon

Attack a candidate popular with the Tea Party and you play into the strength of the movement, which is emotionalism based on a sense of neglect. “Listen to us,” goes the rallying cry among those who want to “take back” their country. Tea Party candidates have turned attacks into fundraising windfalls because the media and the political establishment is the enemy and they need your money to combat the machine.

That reality is likely tough to concede to for American Constitution Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo. The Tanc is a longtime firebrand and political punch thrower who thrives in the scrum. As he said at a debate in Colorado Springs two weeks ago when GOP Tea Party opponent Dan Maes complained about his style: “Well, Dan, you know, it’s that old saying about the heat and the kitchen.”

In discussion with Slate’s Dave Weigel this week, though, Tancredo concedes the point, and does so kind of eloquently.

“The Tea Party folks, a lot of them, got into this in a different way than the usual Republican or Democrat,” Tancredo tells me. “They got into this with a lot of emotion. They were building a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington story. They put in a lot of effort, and when Maes starts to fall in the polls and gets attacked, they feel like they’re being attacked. I don’t know what it takes to overcome that, or if we can.”

Weigel puts the exchange in context because he’s been one of the keenest reporters watching it for months:

That’s the phenomenon that’s boosted Tea Party candidates in every other state this year. On Tuesday, Sharron Angle, running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. announced that she had raised $14 million in the third quarter, in no small part due to how she presented herself as a giant-killer under duress from the giant. Rep. Michele Bachmann raised $5.4 million the same way, and Christine O’Donnell raised at least $2 million as liberals mocked her on TV. Before the Pueblo debate, as Tancredo straightens himself up, a contingent of Maes fans in red shirts (slogan: “The Peoples’ Candidate”) sit and grumble about how their man gets treated.

“He’s human,” says Owen Dean. “He’s a political amateur. That’s one of the things I like about him.”

Weigel only sideways notes that, for his part, Democrat John Hickenlooper has long recognized these facts of the race and has always been conciliatory and agreeable with Maes, whom of course Hickenlooper would like to see evenly split the vote on the right with Tancredo.

[Hickenlooper] either declines to try, or fails, to match Tancredo and Maes on populist anger. Instead, he tells winding anecdotes about his experience as a brewer and restaurant owner. When immigration comes up, he punts, looks at Tancredo, and says, “I learned a long time ago not to debate the congressman on this.”

“I am learning to be a better debater,” he says sheepishly in his closing remarks.

Don’t buy it, Dave.

“Aw shucks” Hickenlooper is not sheepish. He’s probably the best politician in the state.

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