- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado donned his bulletproof vest last year and hit the campaign trail expressly to get his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination - and the voters - to make illegal immigration a real, rather than rhetorical, priority.

He says he failed.

And he doesn’t trust Democratic Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton or even presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain to do the right thing on immigration once one of them moves into the Oval Office.

“Nobody’s going to enter the White House in January of ‘09 who is committed to securing the border and ending the disaster of illegal immigration,” said Mr. Tancredo, who wears the vest when he feels insecure about the enemies he has made over the years while touting his anti-illegals stance.

“Therefore, the next stage in the battle is going to be in the states,” he said.

So, Mr. Tancredo is leaving the halls of Congress to join the front lines, possibly with either a new or established advocacy group, and promote court-tested efforts states and localities have adopted to address the strain illegal immigration has put on the educational systems, social services and law enforcement.

“We will have to see if we can replicate Arizona and Oklahoma in other states because that’s what states and localities do whenever the federal government walks away from its responsibility,” said Mr. Tancredo, who is not seeking a sixth term.

Mr. Tancredo’s distrust of Mr. McCain on questions such as amnesty for illegal immigrants - which each man interprets differently - is so deep that he is not sure he will vote for the presumptive Republican nominee in November.

“Maybe I’ll write me in - who knows?” he said. “When I’m in the voting booth, I’m going to just be tussling with this in my own heart.”

The distance between the two men, as Mr. Tancredo sees it, is even more evident when he is pressed as to whether they can come to an agreement that would allow Mr. Tancredo to endorse the senator from Arizona and thus stir reluctant conservatives to work for his election in November.

“There is absolutely nothing I can say that would not destroy my credibility or that he could accept that wouldn’t destroy his,” Mr. Tancredo said. “I cannot offer anything that he could accept.

Mr. Tancredo said Mr. McCain is the last of 10 Republican presidential candidates standing because he and the other eight didn’t provide the leadership voters desired.

“Frankly, I don’t see myself as this great leader, as capable as Ronald Reagan,” he said. “I know I’m not. So I can’t ask people to see something in me that I don’t see in myself.”

Even as a southbound economy dries up jobs for illegal immigrants, Mr. Tancredo’s hallmark issue is likely to remain one of the most bitterly emotional concerns dividing the nation.

Opponents who thought he had too much power over immigration policy were snarling “Nazi” and “racist” at him well before entered the Republican nomination battle.

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