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Firebrand Tancredo puts policy over party line
denverpost ^ | 27. november 2005 | Anne C. Mulkern

Posted on 11/27/2005 8:28:54 PM PST by Icelander

Washington - U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo wants to inflame people.

He speaks on talk radio and cable television as often as 15 times a week, warning that illegal immigrants are stealing jobs, destroying American culture and killing police officers.

With every word, the ex-schoolteacher son of Italian immigrants pours fuel on a grassroots brush fire.

Tancredo strives to agitate people enough that they demand change from Congress. As outraged citizens pressure lawmakers to follow Tancredo's lead, his power grows.

Although he's never passed significant legislation on his top issue, Tancredo now is invited to dinners with those shaping legislation. He's asked to speak at forums. His opponents create lobbying groups to counterbalance Tancredo's contentious message.

President Bush, congressional leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all are talking immigration reform this year, pushing a plan to let some immigrants stay in the country as guest workers. Many in business want to hire more foreigners.

But pressure from outraged citizen groups - stoked by Tancredo and his allies - is forcing pro-guest-worker forces to retool their strategy.

Interviews with more than two dozen people - including current and past colleagues of Tancredo, immigration activists, political analysts and strategists - show Tancredo is not easily discounted as an extremist loudmouth.

An analysis of Tancredo's campaign contributions reveals he's increasingly supported by people outside Colorado, evidence of his growing national stature.

After only six years in the U.S. House, the lawmaker representing Denver's southern suburbs has made himself the leader of one side of a debate over immigration that's poised to split the Republican Party. He's even considering a run for the presidency to force other candidates to debate the issue.

"He has had as much to do with moving immigration front and center onto the national agenda as anybody," said Norman Ornstein, political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "It wouldn't have been dealt with with this level of intensity or even urgency if it weren't for him."

While he's a hero to those supporters, others consider him a dangerous demagogue.

"Right after 9/11, Tom Tancredo was pushing many of the ideas that bona fide white-supremacist groups were pushing," said Mark Potok, director of intelligence for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama, which monitors hate groups.

Election to Congress gave Tancredo a national platform for an anti-illegal-immigration message developed over three decades. The 2001 terrorist attacks gave his arguments about the dangers of porous borders new legitimacy.

And the presidential campaign season in 2008 could give him an unparalleled opportunity to push his platform.

Tancredo is the first to say that the idea of his inhabiting the Oval Office is a joke. But meanwhile his renown - and notoriety - grows rapidly.

So far this year, he's spent 17 days in New Hampshire, Iowa and South Carolina, the first stops in the presidential nomination season.

An unofficial website is devoted to his potential candidacy, as well as a "Tancredo Watch" website hosted by critics. Nearly 9,000 "Tancredo for President" bumper stickers have been sold.

One of the few Republicans willing to criticize the White House, Tancredo is called upon by talk radio and cable television to talk about immigration as well as the deficit and Supreme Court nominations. He's appeared or been discussed on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News nearly 200 times in the past two years. His name appeared on some 5,200 Internet blogs as of last week.

He gets death threats he says he's been told not to talk about. U.S. Capitol police have been assigned to travel with him.

In one of two extensive interviews with The Denver Post about his life and career, Tancredo said that immigration - both legal and illegal - is just where the nation's crisis starts. While some celebrate the country's multitude of cultures, he sees it as dangerous.

Immigrants who cling to their language, heritage and loyalties while living in the U.S. threaten to turn the nation into a "Tower of Babel," he said.

He rails against what he calls "the cult of multiculturalism," or "people who are intent upon dividing America up into cultural enclaves, who are intent upon essentially minimizing the importance of Western civilization."

Combine that with "massive immigration," he said, and "25 years from now it will not only determine what kind of a country we are, it will determine whether we are a country."

Blame career on Castro

Those who wish Tancredo had never entered politics can blame Fidel Castro. Tancredo was in eighth grade at St. Catherine's Elementary School in Denver when the Cuban dictator came to power. He took turns acting as Castro and as an interviewer for a class assignment.

"I loved doing this. Maybe it was the theatricality of it," he said. "Maybe that's what got me into politics in general."

At age 59, Tancredo - with gray sideburns and a balding pate, but a remarkably unlined face - still comes across as that playful student. Asked his favorite food, and knowing his answer will raise eyebrows, he says "tacos," and complains about how it's impossible to find good Mexican food in Washington.

As easily as he jokes, Tancredo is also quick to castigate. He exults in political incorrectness.

Recently he suggested that the U.S. should consider bombing Mecca in response to an Islamic terrorist strike on U.S. soil; demanded that the government drop the design for a Pennsylvania memorial to Sept. 11 victims because its crescent shape is a symbol of Islam; voted against federal aid to Hurricane Katrina victims, calling Louisiana officials corrupt; and said that New Mexico was improperly using money obtained from declaring a state of emergency over immigration.

"What you are doing in Washington is divisive, partisan demagoguery on a critical issue for our country," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said in a letter to Tancredo.

Tancredo's provocative statements hurt his credibility, said Republican activist Grover Norquist, a liaison between the White House and conservatives. Norquist contrasted Tancredo's remark about bombing Mecca to someone suggesting bombing Dublin in response to an Irish Republican Army attack.

"Would people see that as anti-terrorist or anti-Irish?" Norquist said. "That's so far beyond the pale that it's hard to hear any kind of discussion about immigration."

Yet each time Tancredo takes such stands, he ends up in newspapers and on cable news shows. That exposure, plus supporters who think of Tancredo "less as a nut and more as a courageous, plain-spoken hero" have allowed him to affect the national agenda, said analyst Ornstein.

For Tancredo, who's working on a book about himself and immigration titled "Rebel With a Cause," simply getting Congress to talk about immigration is a victory.

"I have pursued it with every ounce of energy I have, and it has moved the debate, and it has moved the country," he said. "And yeah, I am very pleased about that. If I never accomplished another thing, I think I could go home and say, 'Yeah, I did that."'

There are an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, with 6 million of those from Mexico, according to a March 2005 report by the Pew Hispanic Center. That immigrant pool is growing at a rate of about 9 percent annually.

Colorado had an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 illegal immigrants in 2004, the report said.

"This is the hottest issue out there," said Angela "Bay" Buchanan, sister of Pat Buchanan and head of the political action committee Team America, which Tancredo started to back candidates with similar immigration views.

Voters side less with Tancredo than he thinks, Norquist said, noting that anti-illegal-immigration candidates ran against incumbent Republicans in one Senate and three House primary races in 2004. All lost.

Assessing Tancredo's success with immigration policy in Congress is challenging. Major bills usually are carried by committee chairmen, such as a bill that passed this year requiring states to verify someone's citizenship before issuing a driver's license. Tancredo backed that bill.

Tancredo has seen small successes. For the past three years he's introduced a bill amendment that would deny homeland security funding to cities where police refuse to turn over information about illegal immigrants to federal agents. The amendment has failed every time, but the margin is tightening.

Many House members who say they are staunch illegal- immigration opponents won't sign on to Tancredo's legislation, citing his reputation.

Some of Tancredo's colleagues say his controversial statements hurt his ability to help his constituents.

"People of Colorado elected him ... to represent them, and he's running all over the country campaigning against Republicans and limiting his own effectiveness to near zero for his own district," GOP Rep. Darrell Issa of San Diego said.

Many of Tancredo's constituents disagree. Tancredo is "straightforward and says what he feels," said Clif Sams, 65, of Aurora. Tancredo joined Democrats to push for a law allowing disabled veterans to collect both military pension and disability, giving Sams $550 more in monthly income, he said.

Sams also supports Tancredo on the immigration issue.

"We need to control illegal aliens. And I think he's starting to wake people up to get off the pot," he said.

Tancredo said he accomplishes plenty for his district. In a recent bill funding transportation projects nationwide, Tancredo's staff said, the money he obtained for the district ranked about average for Congress members.

"Luckily I'm not just here to bring home the bacon," he said.

Parents were apolitical

Born in 1945, "Tommy" Tancredo grew up in an Italian neighborhood in north Denver. His parents, he says, were apolitical.

As a Republican student activist, Tancredo spoke out in favor of the Vietnam War. After graduating from the University of Northern Colorado in June 1969, he became eligible to serve in Vietnam. Tancredo said he went for his physical, telling doctors he'd been treated for depression, and eventually got a "1-Y" deferment.

He became a junior high school teacher and in 1976 ran for the state House of Representatives. While he worked, his parents campaigned, handing out cards with his mother's Italian spaghetti sauce recipe on one side and "Tancredo's recipe for good government" on the other.

He won the seat and joined lawmakers known as the "House Crazies" who pushed an uncompromising conservative agenda.

"He ... was of the new brand of Republican who didn't (just) want government to run more efficiently, ... (they) didn't want it to run at all," said Richard Lamm, then Colorado governor.

Tancredo left the statehouse after two terms and in 1981 took a job as regional director in President Reagan's Department of Education, cutting the Colorado office staff from 223 people to 60 in four years. He then headed the libertarian Independence Institute think tank before running for Congress.

There was no single moment when Tancredo decided immigration was the issue he must attack, he said. But by the time he ran for the U.S. House, he talked about it constantly.

"I'd bring it up at every single debate," he said. "Nobody ever either argued with me about it or agreed with me about it. It just laid there."

Supported financially by groups such as the National Rifle Association, National Right to Life and various businesses, he won election in 1998. He pledged to serve only three terms, then changed his mind and ran for a fourth last year, saying there was too much work left to be done on immigration.

As a new House member, Tancredo used the one avenue he had to get attention. After the House is finished for the day, House members can go to the chamber and talk on any topic, speaking in an empty room to a camera operated by the C-SPAN cable channel. Tancredo spoke about immigration. He'd return to supportive phone messages and e-mails in his office.

Tancredo started his Immigration Reform Caucus in May 1999 with 16 members. Still, for three years, Tancredo spoke largely to an empty room. The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 changed that.

"Then immigration became a huge topic that people were willing to start to discuss, and there I was," Tancredo said. "See what happened? I was the guy. I was talking. Then it was OK to make a lot of noise about it."

The Immigration Caucus now has 91 members, 89 of whom are Republicans.

Bilingual-education law

While in the Colorado House, one of Tancredo's top priorities was eliminating taxpayer funding for bilingual education in public schools. He eventually succeeded in modifying the law. What outraged him, said his close colleague at the time, then-state Sen. Hugh Fowler, was that students learned about Mexican culture: food, dance and history.

"To be teaching children about a second culture and a second language that supports that culture we saw as a very un-American approach to civics," said Fowler, who worked with Tancredo on the effort.

Tancredo was already developing his crusade against "the cult of multiculturalism."

"Appreciating diversity is a good thing, it's a healthy thing, except when it becomes the only thing, the main attribute," he said. "That's what I fear is happening. We don't have things pulling us together. We have things pulling us apart."

He questions why there is a black caucus and Hispanic caucus in the U.S. House and said he has considered introducing legislation to ban such groups.

"I just think these things separate us instead of bringing us together," he said. "What if we had a white caucus?"

The second chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called that statement "more race-baiting" by Tancredo. The black, Hispanic and Asian-American caucuses exist because few members of Congress come from those racial groups and they need a unified voice, said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Ariz.

Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson, who authored and pushed through new immigration laws in 1986 and 1996, said Tancredo's statements about the need for cultural assimilation are similar to those made by the late Barbara Jordan, who headed the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform in the 1990s. Jordan could make those statements without the criticism Tancredo is receiving, Simpson said, because she was an African-American Democrat.

"I think it's unfair to try and portray him as a racist," Simpson said.

Tancredo knows many consider him a racist.

"I am considered to be this horrible person who's mad about people coming here from other places," he said. "That is absolutely untrue, completely untrue. I don't care where you came from. I don't care what language you spoke. I don't care what religion you are.

"What I'm looking for is something that happens here in America that begins the process of tying all of us together as Americans."

He is not anti-Mexican, he said, but there is no escaping that the biggest source of illegal immigrants is Mexico.

Critics cite extremist ties

Even those who find Tancredo toxic concede he's been effective in shaping the anti-immigration message. They note how he seizes the opportunity to advance his cause after events such as the killing of Denver police Detective Donald "Donnie" Young, allegedly by illegal immigrant Raul Gomez-Garcia.

"When you hear him talk about this issue, at every opportunity, on every radio station and every TV talk show that he can, it makes it seem like every illegal immigrant in this country is killing cops," said Roberto de Posada of the Latino Coalition, a business group lobbying for a guest-worker program and other pro-immigration reforms.

Others in the pro-immigration camp, however, minimize Tancredo's impact. The National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic-American activist group, said Tancredo represents a small, if vocal, minority.

"Mr. Tancredo has proposed a lot of (legislative) amendments," said Michele Waslin, director of immigration policy research for La Raza. "Even though he's got his (Immigration Caucus) to vote for them, very little of it has passed."

Lamm disagrees, saying Tancredo fights with "vigor and increasing sophistication."

"He sees clearly the negative impact this is having on America and has the political courage to take on his own president and the media elite on this issue," the former governor said.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, co-author of one of several bills introduced this year to create a guest-worker program, said he has "very little doubt" that his efforts will trump those of Tancredo and his supporters.

"We welcome the debate, but frankly I'm confident that we'll prevail," he said.

Tancredo's fiercest critics say he surrounds himself with white supremacists. Tancredo takes money from and moves in the same circles as people whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified as "extremists."

Barbara Coe, co-author of a 1994 California ballot initiative denying illegal immigrants access to public schools and hospitals, donated $500 to Tancredo's 2004 campaign and has long been a key supporter. Proceeds from the "Tancredo for President" bumper sticker, which sell for $2 each, go to another Coe group, California Coalition for Immigrant Reform. Tancredo spoke at a 2003 event put on by that group.

Coe said she belonged to and spoke at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that declares on its website that it opposes "all efforts to mix the races of mankind (and) to promote non-white races over the European-American people." It sells T-shirts that say: "White pride. Save our Culture."

Both the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti- Defamation League call the Council of Conservative Citizens a white-supremacist group.

Another Tancredo supporter is immigration activist Joe McCutchen of Arkansas, who gave Tancredo a total of $500 between 2002 and 2004. McCutchen said that while he did not belong to the Council of Conservative Citizens, he did speak at one of its events on immigration several years ago.

Tancredo said he doesn't want anyone involved in his movement because of racial views.

"I can't control the people who come to the speeches or say I'm a good guy," Tancredo said. "I know who I am."

He has not returned donations from either Coe or McCutchen.

Out-of-state supporters

Tancredo took the stage in the auditorium of a Carlsbad, Calif., school in August, the featured speaker at an anti-immigration rally. Several hundred people jumped to their feet, cheering wildly. Dozens of people held up "Tancredo for President" bumper stickers.

Police officers in riot gear lined the street outside and the aisles inside. Coe, sitting in the audience, clutched a handful of "Tancredo for President" bumper stickers. Coe and her compatriots were among Tancredo's first non-Colorado backers. They brought him grassroots support and money from outside Colorado.

By 2004, almost half his individual political contributions came from out of state, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed by The Denver Post. That's up from 31 percent in 2000, the first time he ran for re-election.

Since 1998, Californians have given him $83,875 in campaign contributions, 6 percent of his individual donations. He's also received money from New York, Texas, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Illinois and Arizona.

The morning after the Carlsbad rally, Tancredo was guest of honor at a breakfast for San Diego Republicans who paid $1,000 each to belong to the "Chairman's Circle."

Madeleine Cosman, a Los Angeles medical attorney and author, told Tancredo she had a $1,000 check for Tancredo's congressional campaign, but she was going to cross it out and write "Tancredo for President."

"Oh, no, don't do that," Tancredo told her, there was no place to put that check. No Tancredo for President fund. So far.

Unlike most other members of Congress, Tancredo spends his time away from Washington not primarily in his own district but speaking in other parts of Colorado and outside the state, darting from San Diego to Colorado to Iowa, back west to Salt Lake City and then to Los Angeles.

His staff would not release his full schedule, but in August and September, Tancredo spent at least two days in South Carolina, three in Iowa, two in Utah, three in California, one in Arizona and two in New Hampshire. In late October he traveled to Omaha, then two weekends later darted to Arizona and New Mexico.

The zigzagging across the country has a bit of a campaign feel. It's spreading Tancredo's name.

If Tancredo does enter the presidential race, it probably will be without the support of some fellow Republicans who see him as a backstabber. To push his immigration platform, Tancredo has endorsed primary-election challengers to three of his U.S. House colleagues and even backed a non-Republican in a California race. He's castigated others as well as President Bush.

Ultimately, as he has alienated Republican leaders by attacking their positions on immigration, Tancredo has become more dependent on his grassroots supporters. In 2004, 55 percent of all his campaign money came from individual donors, compared with 25 percent in 2000.

Tancredo's often-outrageous comments and his travels haven't hurt his ability to be re-elected to his conservative, moderately affluent suburban district.

The father of two sons, Tancredo and his wife, Jackie - married for 28 years - live close to the center of the district, in a 5,600-square-foot, two-story home. He has stock investments worth between $500,000 and $1 million, according to the disclosures he files as a member of Congress. He attends Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch.

According to his 2004 election opponent, Tancredo seldom campaigns in person.

"I had over 400 (campaign) events in the 14 months that I was running, and he was simply not to be seen," said Democrat Joanna Conti.

Tancredo said he was busy working in Washington when many of those events took place. Even so, in a district where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1, Tancredo won 59 percent to Conti's 39 percent.

Political experts are split on whether Tancredo can become a legitimate spoiler in the 2008 presidential primary, drawing enough of the vote away that other candidates are forced to incorporate his ideas, as did Pat Buchanan, who won the New Hampshire primary in 1996.

"Pat Buchanan was a very well-known conservative commentator who'd served three presidents," said Ed Rollins with the Rollins Strategy Group, who has helped run six presidential campaigns. "At the end of the day, he was a conservative alternative to Bush. He began with a lot of name ID, ... certainly more than (Tancredo) has."

Analyst Ornstein said, however, that Tancredo could be part of the early debates, get national attention and 10 percent to 12 percent of the GOP primary vote.

He will need to expand his message beyond immigration to do that, said Tom Rath, Republican national committeeman for New Hampshire. Tancredo is not well-known there, he said, and where he is known, it is only on the immigration issue.

Heading into the 2006 congressional election, Tancredo has about $270,000 on hand, less than most Colorado incumbents. He potentially has access to far more, however, through the political action committee he founded, Team America.

He hired Bay Buchanan to run his PAC, though he now is no longer legally attached to the committee.

Through Team America, Buchanan said, she can direct individual contributions to a candidate, bundling them into larger amounts that individuals by law can't give. Right now those funds are used to help other candidates that Buchanan and Tancredo consider to have the right views on immigration.

Buchanan thinks Tancredo underestimates the success he could have in presidential primaries. When he visited Iowa the first time expecting to see two dozen people at the state's house parties, Tancredo instead found himself welcomed by 60 to 85 people, she said. And when he returned in September, he had 400 people cheering for him, she said.

"I'm not saying this is going to be easy," she said. "I think there's a chance. My job is to convince Tom there's a chance."

TOPICS: Extended News; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: aliens; elections; illegal; immigrantlist; immigration; tancredo
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1 posted on 11/27/2005 8:28:56 PM PST by Icelander
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Comment #3 Removed by Moderator

To: Icelander

Gotta love a politician who puts doing the right thing over party.

4 posted on 11/27/2005 8:36:54 PM PST by cripplecreek (Never a minigun handy when you need one.)
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To: Nomorinos

At least one Republican gets it.

5 posted on 11/27/2005 8:36:59 PM PST by forgotten conservative (The many, the proud, the ignored and derided.)
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To: Icelander

blech... not a fan.

6 posted on 11/27/2005 8:40:49 PM PST by traviskicks (
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To: Icelander
Tancredo for Pres in 08
7 posted on 11/27/2005 8:41:00 PM PST by p23185 (Why isn't attempting to take down a sitting Pres & his Admin considered Sedition?)
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To: Icelander

One thing for sure, if the beltway pubbies push Rudy, the McCainiac, or some other such RINO, Tom will get the vote from wife and I.

8 posted on 11/27/2005 8:42:57 PM PST by Ursus arctos horribilis ("It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!" Emiliano Zapata 1879-1919)
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To: Icelander
Norquist contrasted Tancredo's remark about bombing Mecca to someone suggesting bombing Dublin in response to an Irish Republican Army attack.

Oh yeah, that's comparable...

9 posted on 11/27/2005 8:44:37 PM PST by inquest (FTAA delenda est)
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To: Icelander
Right Message.

Wrong Messenger.

10 posted on 11/27/2005 8:45:30 PM PST by peyton randolph (Warning! It is illegal to fatwah a camel in all 50 states)
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To: peyton randolph
Then find someone you think is better suited to deliver the message. Until then - lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
11 posted on 11/27/2005 8:48:54 PM PST by inquest (FTAA delenda est)
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To: Icelander
The Republican Party of Big Stupid Free-Spending Government must really hate this guy.

Unprincipled political hacks hate to be challenged.

12 posted on 11/27/2005 8:49:41 PM PST by Hank Rearden (Never allow anyone who could only get a government job attempt to tell you how to run your life.)
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To: inquest
Then find someone you think is better suited to deliver the message. Until then - lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Amen, talk about the perfect being the enemy of the good.
13 posted on 11/27/2005 8:50:34 PM PST by fallujah-nuker (America needs more SAC and less empty sacs.)
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To: inquest
Then find someone you think is better suited to deliver the message.

I plan to push all major GOP primary contenders on the issue.

Until then - lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Testy. Testy. Sounds like a Pat Buchanan Brigadier following his next Messiah into oblivion.

14 posted on 11/27/2005 8:53:39 PM PST by peyton randolph (Warning! It is illegal to fatwah a camel in all 50 states)
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To: inquest

Grover Norquist:

15 posted on 11/27/2005 8:55:22 PM PST by fallujah-nuker (America needs more SAC and less empty sacs.)
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To: Icelander

Tancredo makes Republicans uncomfortable by introducing them to the aims of the Republican Platform and conservative ideals.

16 posted on 11/27/2005 8:57:26 PM PST by WorkingClassFilth (The problem with being a 'big tent' Party is that the clowns are seated with the paying customers.)
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To: fallujah-nuker
Can't break the rules.

17 posted on 11/27/2005 9:00:43 PM PST by fallujah-nuker (America needs more SAC and less empty sacs.)
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To: peyton randolph
I plan to push all major GOP primary contenders on the issue.

But if you're not going to vote for, or at least threaten to vote for, the one person who'll actually do something about it, then your "push" will be laughable.

What you don't seem to understand is that anyone who delivers the right message the way Tancredo does will be made out to be the "wrong messenger" by the MSM. If you want to fall for their pap, then by all means, take it to DU. It won't be missed here.

18 posted on 11/27/2005 9:03:17 PM PST by inquest (FTAA delenda est)
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To: inquest
But if you're not going to vote for, or at least threaten to vote for, the one person who'll actually do something about it, then your "push" will be laughable.

You're making a big assumption that he wants something done about the open border. Checking the link in his tagline will show you "the rest of the story. Good day."
19 posted on 11/27/2005 9:09:20 PM PST by fallujah-nuker (America needs more SAC and less empty sacs.)
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To: Nomorinos; arnoldpalmerfan

And a strong conservative voting record to boot!
Tancredo BUMP!!!

20 posted on 11/27/2005 9:11:15 PM PST by FlashBack (When I grow up I wanna be a coWboy.)
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