- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 18, 2010

The plagiarism scandal surrounding GOP gubernatorial hopeful Scott McInnis has pushed another familiar Colorado Republican back into the political spotlight.

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo was the overwhelming choice of Colorado Republicans if Mr. McInnis withdraws from the race, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted after the plagiarism allegations broke last week.

The survey of 429 Colorado Republicans found that 29 percent see Mr. Tancredo as “the strongest Republican candidate for governor,” followed by Mr. McInnis with 19 percent. “Not sure” came in third, while the race’s other Republican candidate, businessman Dan Maes, came in fourth with 13 percent.

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The results surprised Mr. Tancredo.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Mr. Tancredo in an interview Sunday with The Washington Times. “I was amazed.”

Mr. Tancredo, best known nationally for his opposition to illegal immigration and his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, said a number of things would have to happen before his name appears on a ballot. First of all, Mr. McInnis would need to withdraw.

Mr. McInnis said in an e-mail to supporters that he’s “in it to win it.”

Even Republicans who think Mr. McInnis has no shot aren’t pushing him out the door just yet. Party insiders acknowledge that the best-case scenario would be for Mr. McInnis to stay in the race, win the Aug. 10 primary and then immediately drop out.

If Mr. McInnis withdraws before Aug. 10, then Mr. Maes, a little-known newcomer who’s already raised controversy over his campaign spending, would become the candidate by default. Much better for the GOP would be for Mr. McInnis to bow out after winning the primary, which then would allow the state party’s vacancy committee to choose a replacement.

Mr. McInnis made no public appearances over the weekend, but he did tell supporters at a private fundraiser in Silt, Colo., that he wouldn’t step aside after the primary.

“That ain’t going to happen,” said Mr. McInnis, according to the Grand Junction Sentinel.

Even if it did, Mr. Tancredo said, he probably wouldn’t be the top choice of such a committee, which likely would lean toward a safer, less controversial pick.

“Getting a steering committee to agree to pick me is probably a bigger hurdle than getting Scott McInnis to drop out of the race,” said Mr. Tancredo, who has won three legislative and five congressional races in Colorado. “I am a lightning rod, but at the same time, I’m electable.”

The next few weeks likely will determine whether Mr. McInnis can stanch the flood of bad publicity long enough to salvage his candidacy. The news over the weekend wasn’t good: Three of his top campaign staffers resigned Friday, and while none gave an explanation, it was widely assumed they were reacting to the plagiarism charges.

Mr. McInnis received $300,000 from the Hasan Family Foundation to write an essay on water policy, titled “Musings on Water,” several pages of which were lifted verbatim from another source. Mr. McInnis, who has said he will return the money, blamed the error on a researcher, only to have the researcher accuse him of lying.

All three of the departing staff members - policy director Mac Zimmerman, political director Dustin Zvonek and regional director Tyler Houlton - have worked for Mr. Tancredo, and two also have worked for state Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry.

“They’re great people,” said Mr. Tancredo, who added that he didn’t know they were planning to leave. “They’re the kind of people who would work for a campaign if they believed in the candidate even if he were miles behind.”

Mr. McInnis also took a hit from his hometown newspaper, the Grand Junction Sentinel, which joined the Denver Post in calling on him to withdraw his candidacy.

McInnis credibility is so shredded that he can no longer be a viable candidate, much less governor,” the newspaper said in a Thursday editorial. “He should step aside.”

Other Republicans mentioned to replace Mr. McInnis are former state party Chairman Bruce Benson, who’s now chancellor of the University of Colorado, and Mr. Penry. As a millionaire oilman, Mr. Benson would be able to self-finance his campaign. Mr. Penry dropped out of the race early in order to help Republicans avoid a contested primary.

Neither has Mr. Tancredo’s name recognition or devoted following. Mr. Penry received 7 percent of the vote in the SurveyUSA poll, while Mr. Benson logged 3 percent.

Tancredo backers are working the social media in an effort to build momentum. “My e-mail box is full to the brim (from friends nationally and locally) suggesting that we all get behind Tancredo and support him for governor of Colorado,” Denver border security activist Jan Herron said in a Saturday e-mail.

The Republican nominee likely would face Democrat John Hickenlooper in the general election. Polls taken before the plagiarism allegations surfaced showed Mr. McInnis leading by five to six percentage points, while a Rasmussen Reports poll released Friday showed Mr. Hickenlooper ahead by 45 percent to 43 percent.

Although the McInnis campaign may take comfort from those poll numbers and conclude that the worst is over, it’s not, Mr. Tancredo said.

“He’s only a few points behind Hickenlooper now. He can hang on and not do too much between now and Aug. 10, and still win the primary,” Mr. Tancredo said. “But in a full-blown campaign, [the plagiarism charge] is going to be brought up over and over and over again. It would be difficult for him to survive that.”

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