DENVER – With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss in his Virginia primary, Tom Tancredo may be the happiest man in Colorado politics. Cory Gardner may be the most regretful. And Mike Coffman may be the most nervous.
Tancredo is in a four-way battle to win the Republican nomination for governor, with the vote on June 24. Cantor’s loss to an unknown anti-immigrant hardliner means the Republican base is fired up about the issue and more likely to turn out. Tancredo, a well-known anti-immigrant hardliner, was already seen as the frontrunner, especially given the loyalty of his voters. This only solidifies his chances.
Gardner, on the other hand, bowed out of a safe congressional seat and a likely bid for speaker of the House in order to wage a likely-losing campaign against Sen. Mark Udall. Every indication from Gardner’s record, including his anti-reproductive-rights and multiple anti-immigrant votes, was that he was running for a hard-right Republican leadership position, not statewide office in moderate Colorado. He opposed the DREAM Act and voted to deport DREAMers in a state with a 20 percent Latino population, most of which is concentrated in and around the Democratic stronghold of Denver, not Gardner’s rural 4th Congressional District.
According to Fox31’s Eli Stokols, quoting from Politico reporter Ken Vogel’s book “Big Money,” Gardner met with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads funders during the government shutdown, which may very well have tipped his decision to get in the race. A majority leader or speaker of the House from swing-state Colorado has a shot at national office, but Gardner’s not on that track any more.
And thanks to redistricting, Mike Coffman’s 6th Congressional District, one of the most-watched races in the country, has gone from 9 percent Latino to 20 percent Latino. Coffman also voted yes on anti-immigrant Rep. Steve King’s measure to deport DREAMers, undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their parents. And as Latino state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri pointed out in the Denver Post, Coffman “co-sponsored a bill that would remove the constitutional guarantee of citizenship to children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents.”
As Coffman told Dan Frosch of the Wall Street Journal, “There was a perception about Republicans being anti-immigrant ... And Republicans have just not been in the game.” With Cantor’s loss, and the concurrent extinguishing of even cosmetic attempts at immigration reform, the game is gone.
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Colorado is a centrist, pro-choice state with a solid and growing Latino population. Tancredo can’t win against Hickenlooper . Gardner and Coffman are now faced with a hard choice: stick with their anti-immigrant votes and go with base of their party, or attempt to appeal to moderates and risk losing them in an off-year election.
Cantor’s loss is a reminder that the Republican Party is still at war with itself, and that war will play out in Colorado.