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Tancredo won’t debate primary opponents to avoid ‘self-inflicted wounds’

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo announced recently that not only will he not debate any of his competitors for the GOP nomination, he won’t even appear at events if they’re also invited. He said it’s bad for the party if the Republican candidates are constantly sniping at each other.

“I will have to pass on the debate opportunity,” Tancredo said in an email to the Denver Post, which invited him and other Republican candidates to a debate in February. “We made a decision some time ago to forgo these venues in order to reduce the number of self-inflicted wounds that emanate out of these encounters.”

His campaign manager said Tancredo is going to so far as to refuse sharing the spotlight with others, even at non-debate party functions.

“We will not share the stage,” Cliff Dodge was reported as saying by Complete Colorado columnist Peter Blake. “We will not give people like [Republican candidate and state Sen. Greg] Brophy the opportunity, every time, to take shots at him. It’s not in the best interest of the Republican Party, so to hell with it.”

Brophy, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, businessman Steve House and former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Kopp are seeking the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper. Some have expressed puzzlement over Tancredo’s position and at least one couldn’t resist taking the sort of shot Tancredo is trying to avoid.

“He doesn’t want to show people how unprepared he is to be governor,” Brophy told the Post.

Tancredo fired back by saying, “That’s exactly why I don’t want to have debates. It will turn into a circular firing squad.”

Political strategist and former GOP party chairman Dick Wadhams — who presided over the tumultuous 2010 election in which Tancredo joined the American Constitution Party to run against Hickenlooper, after publically vilifying the GOP — said debates are important, if only to prepare for the general election.

“I’m kind of bewildered by Tancredo’s announcement,” Wadhams said in Blake’s column. For previous candidates the debates “sharpened their ability to talk about issues, to challenge their opponents,” he said.

But not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea to pass on debates if they threaten to divide the party.

“Our experience confirmed Tancredo’s view that primary debates increase acrimony among party activists and make it more difficult for the party to unite for the general election,” wrote former Montana gubernatorial candidate Rob Natelson in an op-ed in the Denver Post.

“We also discovered that primary election debates pose a major downside risk but don’t offer much upside,” he wrote. “Relatively few people who watch them do so with open minds. Nearly all are already committed, and they attend only to cheer on their own candidates and/or to catalogue for future use any gaffes by opposing candidates. Few candidates have won primaries through brilliant debate performances, while many have been destroyed by a single perceived mistake.”

Tancredo said he will debate Hickenlooper in the general election if he wins the nomination.

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