Variety of candidates join race to replace Tancredo

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By AJ Vicens

Littleton Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo has made a name for himself on the national stage with his relentless pursuit of immigration reform, controversial statements and a presidential bid.

And while Tancredo’s name has practically become a household word, the names of those vying to replace him are not. Several area Republicans have tossed their hats in the ring to replace Tancredo — state Sen. Ted Harvey, Secretary of State Mike Coffman, Wil Armstrong and state Sen. Steve Ward — and all could face off in next fall’s primary.

Tancredo is stepping down after five terms, and whichever candidate comes out of the primary has a strong chance of succeeding Tancredo in the heavily Republican 5th Congressional District. However, at least one Democrat — Aurora resident Mike Collins — thinks it’s time for a change.

Several of the candidates participated in interviews over the last couple of weeks (interviews with Steve Ward and Wil Armstrong, who could not be reached as of deadline, will appear in coming weeks).

Collins, a Vietnam veteran, said his time in Army Ranger school was “the best leadership school in the world, so I’ve got a leg up on leadership.”

Collins said he shouldn’t be elected just because he’s served his country, but it does add to his qualifications.

“I wouldn’t wish my Vietnam experience on anyone, but it happened, and I have benefited from it quite a bit,” Collins said.

He said it’s time the constituents of the 6th District had a change of pace.

“I think they’ve had about enough of Republicans, and I think it’s a perfect storm for a Democrat like me because I’m different,” Collins said. “I’m everything that they want to be and then some.”

Economic security and energy policy are the key tenets of Collins’ campaign and issues that he said have the most impact on the day-to-day lives of the people in the district.

“Our national treasury has been raided, so it’s weighing on our economy quite a bit,” Collins said. “(And) we need to study ways to save energy and get off the fossil fuels thing. It’s important that we have an energy program that can benefit us all.”

He added that international diplomacy is another area he would like to focus on.

“We have failed the world by not taking a leadership role and not doing the right thing throughout the world,” Collins said. “Instead, like this latest thing with George Bush scaring the bejesus out of the world about World War III over a lie. And I find that offensive and very damaging to our credibility in the world.”

Collins said that rhetoric from the Republican candidates for president on Iran is just a “message of fear.”

“That’s it: a message of fear,” Collins said. “I’m going to tell you right now you can’t scare a man like me. I’ve done and seen it all, I’ve seen the worst things you can see and I’m telling you right now these guys are liars and they want people to be afraid and that’s not right, that’s very un-Christian because God doesn’t want us to be afraid of anything.”

On the Republican side, the race is going to be interesting. Secretary of State Mike Coffman has announced a bid even though state Republican Party members don’t want him to give up his position for Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter to fill by appointment.

“I understand their concern, but this is not a policy-making position, and although one gets elected on a partisan basis ee this is not a partisan job,” Coffman said.

Coffman said his position has allowed him to speak on issues that resonate with Republicans — such as photo ID requirements at the polls — “but at the end of the day, it’s the legislature and the governor that make those decisions.” He added that, to the average Republican primary voter, the fact that Ritter would be able to appoint a presumably Democratic secretary of state if Coffman were to go to Congress is not an issue.

“I think that people in the 6th CD are going to need to decide whether or not it’s more important they have a Republican in a statewide post that is administrative in nature, or having the best candidate, the most qualified candidate, in the Congress of the United States during a time when this country faces so many challenges,” Coffman said.

Coffman, like Collins, sees economic security as a top-tier issue for constituents in this district.

“I think economic security is emerging as a top issue,” Coffman said. “I think people are concerned about the future of this economy and how it’s going to affect their families.”

Coffman said his background as a fiscal conservative would guide him, and he believes Congress must reduce spending and cut taxes “in order to stimulate the economy.”

Coffman — an Army and Marine Corps veteran of both wars in Iraq — said that he’s the most fiscally conservative candidate in the race.

“I think certainly I’ve got a solid conservative record, and certainly on the fiscal side the most conservative record out of anybody running,” Coffman said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Ted Harvey said that, if elected to replace Tancredo, he would focus a lot of his energy on natural resources, namely water policy for the Front Range.

“I established myself as a leader in the state on those issues, and it’s one of the main areas where I want to continue my efforts in Congress, and try to be the voice for Colorado in Washington, D.C., on the issues that are important to Colorado.”

Harvey said the Republican candidates would “probably all vote very similarly,” but “I believe there’s a difference between the way somebody votes and the way somebody leads.”

“I think my friends that are in this race are all good people, but I do not believe that they have the record to show to the voters that they are willing to take as strong a stand on the hard-core conservative issues that I have proven that I am willing to take a fight on.”

Harvey also wants to bring back Republican principles to the national level, namely opposition to lax immigration standards and profligate spending.

“Nationally our party has been tone deaf to the desires of the grassroots, not only on immigration but on spending and on the growth of government,” Harvey said.

Harvey also said that Coffman should stay in his seat as secretary of state because now is not the time to hand it over to the Democrats.

“You can only imagine what would have happened in 2000 if (former Florida Secretary of State) Katherine Harris was a Democrat when they had that close election in Florida,” Harvey said.

“The last thing we need is to have Ken Gordon or whomever in that seat implementing Colorado law when we have what could easily be another very close race and Hillary Clinton becoming president of the United States.

“I think it’s imperative that (Coffman) stay there and keep that seat.”

Contact AJ Vicens at: aj@evergreenco.com. Visit www.columbinecourier.com.