AURORA, Colo. | Democrat John Hickenlooper has repeatedly vowed to run no negative ads in his campaign for Colorado governor, but that was before Tom Tancredo pulled within 4 percentage points.
Now campaign watchers are waiting to see how much longer the Hickenlooper campaign can continue to ignore Mr. Tancredo's insurgent American Constitution Party candidacy. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Friday showed the Denver mayor ahead of Mr. Tancredo by a margin of 42 percent to 38 percent, his smallest lead to date.
For Tancredo supporters, it's not a question of whether the mud will fly, but when. At a campaign rally Saturday, a jubilant Tancredo crowd jammed into the Stampede bar and dance club here past a handwritten sign at the door asking for donations to counter "the negative ads we know are coming!"
"It'll probably come with a vengeance, but what I've learned about this business is that you want to be the candidate with the momentum at the end," said former Rep. Bob Beauprez, one of many Colorado Republicans who turned out to fire up the gathering.
He noted that Mr. Hickenlooper's support has stalled between 42 percent and 44 percent since shortly after the August primary. Dan Maes, the Republican nominee who has been all but disowned by the state Republican establishment, dropped to 12 percent in the latest Rasmussen poll.
"Hickenlooper's just sitting there at 43, 44 percent," Mr. Beauprez said. "All we need is for Dan Maes to get below 10 percent, and we can win this thing."
Mr. Hickenlooper has been peppered with questions about his inability to clear 50 percent in the polls, despite the spectacular Republican Party implosion that led to the unknown Mr. Maes winning the nomination and Mr. Tancredo splitting from the party to run as a third-party candidate.
At a recent candidates' forum, Mr. Hickenlooper said that while he'd like to hit 50 percent, "we're not going to go negative to try and achieve that."
"A lot of people have said, if you went out and tried to point out all the problems your opponents have, you'd automatically lift yourself up," Mr. Hickenlooper said. "[But] appealing to fear and anger is a very short-term solution that has long-term negative consequences."
Indeed, this year's most memorable Hickenlooper campaign ad shows him walking into a running shower with his clothes on.
"Every time I see [a negative ad], I feel like I need to take a shower," he says in the voice-over.
His foes point out that it's been easy for Mr. Hickenlooper to remain above the fray because he's always been the front-runner. His only two previous campaigns were for Denver mayor, which he won easily.
"Hickenlooper's never had anyone beat him up. He had no opposition in his [gubernatorial] primary," said Tancredo campaign manager Bay Buchanan.
Mr. Hickenlooper may certainly be tempted to break his pledge after last week's events. The Tancredo campaign, which had already released one anti-Hickenlooper ad accusing him of "raising taxes, killing jobs," launched a second spot linking the mayor to the death of a child.
The ad centers on Marten Kudlis, a 3-year-old boy who was killed in 2008 at a Baskin-Robbins when a vehicle driven by an oft-arrested but never deported illegal immigrant plowed into the ice-cream shop.
Marat Kudlis, the boy's father and himself a legal immigrant, narrates the spot, which was released Oct. 12, the day ballots were mailed.
"The illegal alien had been arrested 16 times, but never turned over to immigration because of the 'sanctuary city policies that Mayor Hickenlooper supports," Mr. Kudlis said. "I am sending you Martens picture, Mr. Mayor. Try to sleep at night knowing your policy contributed to his death."
The ad outraged the Hickenlooper campaign, which posted a rebuttal on its website insisting that, among other things, Denver is not a sanctuary city.
"This case had nothing to do with John, but its these kinds of shameful, false attacks that Tom Tancredo has routinely used to grab headlines," said campaign spokesman George Merritt.
If anti-Tancredo ads do pop up next week, analysts predict they won't have Mr. Hickenlooper's fingerprints on them. Instead, they will be the product of independent-expenditure committees or national Democrats.
At the Stampede rally, Tancredo supporter Connie Truax of Golden said she was bracing herself.
"I know they [the ads] are coming," she said. "Although I can't imagine anything negative they could say about Tom. I can imagine the negative things they could say about Hick."
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