"The party has gotten into its head, including Tancredo, that they have got to have a strategy on Hispanics and at the moment, it's do nothing wrong. Don't inflame it," said Denver-based independent pollster Floyd Ciruli. "The do-no-harm philosophy has shaped this race, and it's hurt Tancredo."
Beauprez, who has taken the lead over Tancredo in his campaign's polling, said he supports granting legal status to illegal immigrants who go through a background check and are looking for work, but he opposes a path to citizenship for those here illegally. In a speech in Denver on Tuesday outlining his policy agenda, he didn't mention immigration at all but brought up national issues such as Obamacare, the VA scandal, federal energy regulations, Common Core, and federal lands policy.
"It's an issue, but the economy and trampling of constitutional rights way, way outdistances everything else," Beauprez told National Journal. "It's an issue within some segment of the population, but I don't think it's a big issue for more than a handful of people in the state,"
But even if immigration policy hasn't been discussed much in the gubernatorial primary, Tancredo's long history of overzealous rhetoric on the subject is dominating the political strategy in the race. For Democrats, the issue is so toxic for Tancredo that an outside group funded by the Democratic Governors Association spent $363,000 on an ad promoting him as the most conservative candidate to subtly boost his campaign. "We wouldn't have to spend a penny in Colorado if Tancredo's the nominee," said one senior Democratic strategist involved in the race. (The ad may have backfired: Tancredo said he thought the ads benefited Beauprez, with GOP voters recognizing that Democrats viewed Beauprez as the more electable candidate and were trying to meddle in the primary.)
Republicans openly fear that Tancredo could cost the party more than just his own race. With Hickenlooper's approval rating improving, Republican strategists are more optimistic about winning the Senate race between Udall and Gardner, and are hoping to retake control of the state Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat edge.
Despite the worries, Tancredo isn't acting like he's a serious contender. At the Protein Producers Summit, he didn't look like a gubernatorial candidate, wearing an unbuttoned shirt and khakis, wandering the halls unrecognized until approached by this reporter. Despite holding an early lead, he hasn't banked enough money to air any television advertisements, relying instead on his name identification and connection with his loyal supporters instead. His support for last year's referendum legalizing marijuana alienated many social conservatives and prompted a scathing radio ad from challenger Mike Kopp accusing Tancredo of supporting legalization of all drugs. Indeed, he's acted more like a grassroots activist in the mold of Dave Brat than a brand-name congressman and former presidential candidate. Tancredo said he hardly identifies with the Republican Party anymore, calling himself "more conservative than Republican, and more committed to the Constitution than any political party."