Tom Tancredo is set to kick off a campaign for governor of Colorado, joining a crowded Republican primary field in what will be his third run for the office, Colorado Politics has learned.

Tancredo enters the race — after more than two months spent exploring a run — on the heels of a private poll showing him with a wide lead over other GOP candidates. The poll also shows Tancredo in a statistical dead heat with leading Democratic candidate U.S. Rep. Jared Polis.

“I think that all of the things we need to do in the state of Colorado really require some bold leadership,” Tancredo told Colorado Politics late Monday. “It will not be easy to get some real change here, but I think I can provide that kind of leadership. I’m not afraid of taking on tough issues and being bold.” He said pressing issues facing Colorado families include roads, gun rights, education, sanctuary cities, energy and growth.

With Tancredo’s candidacy, that makes nine Republicans — along with seven Democrats — who have declared they’re running to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Tancredo plans to hold Front Range events Wednesday to officially launch his candidacy — including a noon stop at the Denver headquarters of the Independence Institute, the self-described free-market think tank Tancredo headed in the 1990s before winning the first of his five terms in Congress. He’s scheduled to start the day at Whistling Pines Gun Club in Colorado Springs and finish with an afternoon appearance at Grimm Brothers Brewhouse in Loveland.

A prominent critic of illegal immigration and a polarizing figure often at odds with the GOP, Tancredo told Colorado Politics he plans to be prepared if the Republican establishment or other opponents attempt to derail his campaign like he contends happened in the last GOP gubernatorial primary, in 2014. In the closing weeks of that race, Tancredo saw his lead in polls evaporate in the face of a barrage of last-minute advertising funded by the Republican Governors Association.

“We have to anticipate what the establishment will do. It could get ugly,” Tancredo told Colorado Politics. “I think there is a swamp here,” he added, referencing President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington.

His entry threatens to rock a GOP primary that includes State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, former lawmaker and businessman Vic Mitchell and former investment banker Doug Robinson — Mitt Romney’s nephew — along with several other candidates. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has said she’s considering a run for governor but hasn’t said what she plans to do next year.

In addition to Polis, Democrats in the race include Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and businessman Noel Ginsburg.

Colorado Politics reported last week that Tancredo had the support of 22.1 percent of likely Republican primary voters — far ahead of five other declared and potential GOP candidates, according to a poll conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Braynard Group. The survey, conducted by the pollster who set up the polling and data operations for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, found the other candidates included in the survey had support ranging from 8.5 percent to 0.3 percent, while 54.3 percent of respondents were undecided. The poll had a reported margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.16 percent.

In a hypothetical contest against Polis, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, Tancredo trailed 25.3-24.7 — within the poll’s margin of error — while 47.2 percent of likely general election voters said they’re undecided.

Tancredo told Colorado Politics last week he was encouraged after reviewing the poll results.

“It’s a nice feeling, that there’s still a base out there,” he said.

Tancredo has been discussing a possible run for governor with conservative and Tea Party groups across the state since late August.

“I keep asking the same question — ‘Do you think I can beat (Polis)? Do you think I’m the guy who can do it?'” Tancredo said Monday. “So far, it looks like I have a chance.”

Colorado Politics was first to report in August that Tancredo was considering a run. At the time, Tancredo called it “infuriating” and “appalling” that Republicans stayed silent after a Colorado Springs resort cancelled a conference booked by VDARE, an organization that describes itself as devoted to immigration reform but that critics charge is a hate group with ties to white nationalists.

“If I decide to run (for governor), I won’t have to be drafted,” Tancredo told Colorado Politics at the time. “I am so mad at the Republicans who are presently in office or in the hunt for not speaking out in defense of free speech that it won’t take much to push me over the line.”

Tancredo met in late September with former top Trump administration advisor Steve Bannon — since leaving the White House, he’s returned to the helm of the ultra-conservative Breitbart News, where Tancredo is a regular columnist — to discuss a possible run for governor. Tancredo said Monday he hadn’t sought support from Bannon, who has declared he’s waging “a season of war” against the GOP establishment, but added, “If he wanted to come in and help me, I would certainly take it.”

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 Republican Party. 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 a column for Breitbart.

Tancredo rejoined the Republican Party in August “just in case” he decided to run for govern, he told Colorado Politics.

Prior to representing the heavily Republican, suburban 6th Congressional District for a decade, Tancredo, a Colorado native, taught civics and history at Drake Junior High School in Arvada before being elected to two terms in the Colorado House of Representatives in the mid-1970s. He served as regional director of the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Tancredo and his wife, Jackie, live in Lakewood. They have two adult children and five grandchildren.

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