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Hick’s best bet? Do nothing

Aaron Harber //October 28, 2010//

Hick’s best bet? Do nothing

Aaron Harber //October 28, 2010//


How can Hickenlooper “go negative” and does he even need to anyway?

Everyone wants to know whether or not John Hickenlooper will “go negative” and start attacking Tom Tancredo, now that some polls show Tancredo may be as little as one point behind Hickenlooper. While two recent polls do show Tancredo closing the gap even more than he had before, Hickenlooper remains comfortably (up to 10 points) ahead in other polls. With such a wide gap, the issue of “poll accuracy” will be resolved on Election Day.

The bottomline is while Hickenlooper won’t go negative himself, if Tancredo truly does catch up with the Mayor, Hickenlooper’s allies may go negative on his behalf. Hence, it will be third parties who will do the dirty work. A group such as the Democratic Governors’ Association could easily jump in the fray as could many other pro-Democratic entities. And there is no question there is a wealth of opportunity in the “Tancredo File” created over the years by former Congressman Tancredo himself. Nevertheless, the anti-Tancredo groups face three major problems.

The first problem is they would have to produce anti-Tancredo advertisements quickly. This often means having lower quality or less effective ads or even making mistakes because the production of ads is rushed. And those mistakes can backfire quickly as two other Colorado candidates recently discovered (Walker Stapleton and Cory Gardner).

The second problem is buying television spots at ideal broadcast times may be difficult because the best ones already were booked days, weeks, and even months ago (and a lot of these premium spots were purchased by the Hickenlooper campaign). This means a third party group will have to pay a premium to get the most desirable times — making it difficult to structure efficacious ad buys based on resource limitations. In many cases, dollars will only go half as far as usual — making effective advertising purchases very expensive and less effective.

The third problem is that attacking Tancredo right now may not have the impact it might have had in prior years. The various campaigns have been airing negative ads for months and people are sick of them. And this is the time candidates usually begin airing “nice” ads about themselves and cut back on the attack ads so the timing is not ideal for a new round of attack ads.

People may pay less attention to negative ads or even revolt against Hickenlooper for breaking his word to “not go negative” (on the assumption many viewers will incorrectly assume the attack ads are either directly from or at least inspired by the Hickenlooper campaign). Tancredo, if he is agile, will use any negative ads against him to argue Hickenlooper’s word is not good — a bad way to end the campaign for Hickenlooper. So one strategy for Hickenlooper may be to do nothing and be satisfied with his lead.

Negative ads against Tancredo, for better or for worse, also may not resonate because people already know who Tom Tancredo is. It will be more difficult to attack him effectively because there aren’t too many surprises. He’s been around for years and is an “open book.” Plus, what many people like about Tancredo is how he says what he believes and does not appear to be the typical, always-calculating-what’s-best-to-say politician. That may be his greatest attraction. Many people like Tancredo personally even if they disagree with him.

While Hickenlooper has continued his string of humorous ads, during this Great Recession (and it is still ongoing for most people), this approach may have been less effective than in previous years. Many people are not laughing at much right now.

Over the course of several campaigns, everyone has seen the Mayor on his scooter, buying a new suit to double his wardrobe, jumping out of an airplane, and now taking a fully-clothed shower. While these have been amusing and have helped maintain Hickenlooper’s support at a high level — and his more serious ads have helped, too — some voters see Hickenlooper as yet another Democrat who simply has a good sense of humor. While this is an advantage for Hickenlooper and has kept him on top, it has not done so by as wide margin as might have been the case in the past.

The people who want change aren’t looking to Hickenlooper and they certainly aren’t looking to Maes; rather, it’s Tancredo who appeals to them.

Even if the polls which show Tancredo in a statistical tie with Hickenlooper, it actually is more difficult for Tancredo to win the election than many people realize because a significant number of people have completed their ballots due to voting having started about two weeks ago. With a several hundred thousand ballots already cast, changes in voter opinions matter less. Hence, even if Hickenlooper’s lead is narrowing, he already has reaped the benefit of early voters and, therefore, is likely to win even if Tancredo’s support is surging at the end of the campaign.

There is no question Tancredo’s progress has been amazing. His accomplishments, even if he loses the election, are absolutely historic for a contemporary third party candidate in Colorado. No matter what one’s party affiliation or political leaning may be, everyone has to be amazed at what Tancredo has accomplished especially when the following are considered:

(1) He is the candidate of a party 99% of Coloradans do not recognize,
(2) He started seriously campaigning after the Primary Election in mid-August (about 70 days ago) — a year behind most candidates,
(3) He has relatively little money compared to Hickenlooper (although he is raising far more money than Dan Maes), and
(4) He still grapples with the reality enough voters (5 to 10%) support Maes to keep Hickenlooper in the lead – with the vast majority (probably two-thirds) of those voters otherwise supporting Tancredo if Maes dropped out of the race.

Tancredo’s problem is Maes will not drop out because there are only several days left in the campaign and Maes does not feel he has anything to gain by dropping out now. And Maes despises Tancredo so much he would rather see Hickenlooper win.

Even if Maes did drop out, it may not be enough to help Tancredo win because Maes’ name still will be on every ballot as the Republican nominee. Thus, even if Maes were to drop out, some Republicans would vote for him anyway because they either did not knowing Maes had dropped out or because they always vote for the Republican nominee.

Nevertheless, there actually is a chance, if Tancredo can continue his surge and Maes drops out immediately, Tancredo could win the election by 1 or 2 points. Right now he is likely to lose by a similar margin even if he continues to do well. With Maes on the ballot, the odds today still are heavily on Hickenlooper’s side.

To see the two-hour special edition of “Colorado Election 2010: The Final Word” — where candidates have their last opportunity to explain why voters should support them, watch KCDO-TV (K3 Colorado Channel3) on Sunday, October 31st, at 8:00 pm, or COMCAST Entertainment Television on Monday, November 1st, at 7:30 pm. “The Final Word” also will be online on Saturday, October 30th. To watch all 48 interview and debate programs with the candidates and ballot representatives 24/7, go to
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