Although he hasn’t launched a campaign yet, Tom Tancredo holds a wide lead in Colorado’s crowded Republican gubernatorial primary field and is in a statistical tie with leading Democratic candidate Jared Polis, according to a survey conducted by the pollster who set up the polling and data operations for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The poll shows about half the likely primary and general election voters are undecided roughly eight months before the primary and a year before the general election.
The results of the poll, obtained exclusively by Colorado Politics, show “a real path to victory” for Tancredo, whose hard-line positions on immigration have earned him a reputation as a lightning rod, said pollster Matt Braynard of the Washington, D.C.-based Braynard Group.
The survey of 1,000 likely Colorado voters and 400 likely Republican primary election voters, conducted in late September, shows Tancredo, a former congressman and two-time candidate for governor, atop a primary field of six declared and potential GOP candidates with 22.1 percent support. The runner-up, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, had 8.5 percent support.
District Attorney George Brauchler was next with 6.8 percent, followed by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman — a potential gubernatorial candidate who hasn’t declared her plans — with 5.6 percent. Former state lawmaker and businessman Victor Mitchell polls at 0.8 percent, and former investment banker Doug Robinson had 0.3 percent. (Braynard didn’t include declared candidates Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez and Jim Rundberg in the survey.)
The poll shows 54.3 percent of primary voters undecided and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.16 percent, Braynard said.
Eight Republicans and seven Democrats have declared they’re running for the seat held by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a term-limited Democrat.
Since his days in Congress, when he was a frequent critic of the Bush administration’s immigration policy, Tancredo has had a strained relationship with the Republicans. He left the GOP in 2010 to run for governor on the American Constitution Party ticket and then announced in late 2015 he was quitting the party again. “I cannot any longer defend this transparently dishonest charade called the Republican Party,” he wrote in an online column.
Tancredo rejoined the party in August as he began considering a run for governor, saying he was angry that Republicans were silent when a Colorado Springs resort canceled a scheduled conference by VDARE, an organization that describes itself as devoted to immigration reform but that critics call a hate group with ties to white nationalists.
In a hypothetical general election match-up, Polis, a five-term congressman from Boulder, leads Tancredo 25.3 percent to 24.7 percent, within the poll’s margin of error, with 47.2 percent of respondents saying they’re unsure.
Tancredo told Colorado Politics Tuesday he’d seen the poll and was encouraged by the results but hadn’t yet decided whether to launch a campaign.
“What it tells me is that there is no Republican candidate that has caught on. I know they’re trying, and I know some of them have raised a lot of money, but it doesn’t translate into support,” Tancredo said.
He said he’s trying to determine if he can raise enough money for a race that includes wealthy candidates willing to pour millions of dollars into their campaigns, as well as others with a big head-start on fundraising.
“That is the big ‘if,'” Tancredo said. “When I tell you it’s still a tentative thing, it really does revolve around that issue — can I raise the money? Because no mater what — I’ve got lots of support, that’s great, and I probably have up to $5 million of name recognition the other candidates are going to have to buy.”
Braynard came to a similar conclusion in a polling memo obtained by Colorado Politics.
“In both the general and primary, there are enough undecided voters for a disciplined candidate with well-organized campaign to mold a winning majority from the electorate,” Braynard wrote. “Tom Tancredo can be that candidate. He is battle-tested and starts with a significant lead in the primary. He has the potential (to build) a portfolio of policy positions that can appeal to the undecideds in the likely voter universe. His hard-won anti-establishment record can expand the electorate to voters who don’t typically vote in off-year elections. If he can raise the funds necessary to be competitive, he’s got a real path to victory in front of him.”
That Tancredo, a fixture in Colorado politics for more than four decades, has a well of support among GOP voters likely won’t come as a surprise — it’s what veteran Republican consultants predicted earlier this month when discussing a potential Tancredo candidacy.
Republican strategists contacted by Colorado Politics pointed out that Tancredo lost the four-way 2014 GOP gubernatorial primary to former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez with about the same level of support this poll shows he has.
Tancredo, however, counters that he was running ahead in the 2014 primary and maintains he would have won if the Republican Governors Association hadn’t jumped in with heavy last-minute spending meant to derail his campaign.
“It’s a nice feeling, that there’s still a base out there. That was, of course, the advantage I had going into the last go-around, and it stayed that way up until the last week or so when the Republican establishment decided to enter into the fray against me. If I run, this time we’ll be a little more aware of what the Republican establishment might try to do and be prepared for it to the extent I can — if I run,” Tancredo said.
“We have to anticipate what the establishment will do,” he added. “It could get ugly.”
Pollsters and campaign officials working with some of the other GOP candidates disputed Braynard’s conclusion about the poll’s findings.
“George Brauchler has won every straw poll conducted throughout the state by overwhelming margins thanks to a robust conservative grassroots campaign and a positive vision for Colorado’s future,” Brauchler’s campaign manager, Ryan Lynch, told Colorado Politics after reviewing the poll. “With momentum on his side, George has advanced to the top of the GOP field for governor.”
David Hill, a longtime pollster and the lead consultant on Mitchell’s campaign, said it was far too early to jump to any conclusions about the gubernatorial race.
“This poll suggests that the races (primary and general) are wide open,” Hill said in an email. “The candidates are still building name ID and will be into next spring. I doubt that any poll taken before March or April will be much different.”
He added that he suspects the poll is part of a plan by former top Trump strategist Steve Bannon to run “insurgent” candidates against incumbent and mainstream Republicans nationwide — a suggestion Braynard roundly denied.
“This poll seems to have all the marks of being a Bannon plant. Part of ‘the season of war,’” Hill wrote in an email, referencing a phrase Bannon used recently when he declared war on establishment Republicans he blames for blocking Trump’s agenda. “Tancredo may be too smart to take the bait and be a pawn in Bannon’s game.”
Tancredo confirmed he met with Bannon earlier this month in Colorado Springs to discuss a possible run for governor but said it was just a casual discussion.
Braynard declined to reveal who commissioned the poll, but he told Colorado Politics that neither Bannon nor his operation had anything to do with it. He also blasted Mitchell’s remarks.
“It’s disappointing that a consultant like that with no evidence would make that kind of allegation. It makes his candidate look desperate, and it’s a little early to be looking desperate,” Braynard said.
Spokespersons for the Stapleton and Polis campaigns declined to comment on the poll.
GOP pollsters contacted by Colorado Politics questioned the poll’s methodology, charging that Braynard had too many older voters in his sample and wasn’t taking into account nuanced differences between likely primary and general election voters, among other criticisms — but Braynard scoffed and challenged critics to back up their beefs with their own surveys.
“Go ahead and release your numbers and your methodology, and we’ll see whose numbers are most accurate,” he said, claiming that his election polling, including early polls conducted for the Trump campaign, have been on the nose, although he acknowledged that only some of those were publicly available polls.
Braynard said the data and voter contact models he constructed for the Trump campaign — “The objective was to turn out people who had high affinity for the candidate but had not voted regularly, to try to change the shape of electorate, to get more soldiers on the battlefield,” he said — could have a big impact on a Tancredo candidacy in Colorado.
“Tom has the pedigree, he’s established a record which I believe would allow him to reach into that less-likely voter universe,” Braynard said.
“There’s a tremendous reservoir of people who only vote in presidential elections. They have to have a connection with a candidate and a level of excitement. I believe Tom Tancredo has the ability to harness that demographic and get them to turn out for him. He still has that touch of authenticity that is lacking in so many politicians and drives the public away from voting. Whether you agree with him or not, you know he believes what he’s telling you. He’s not trying to snow you or manipulate you. People respect that.”
Tancredo said he plans to decide whether to mount a campaign before the end of November.