Pure Horserace: Beware The Insurgents

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) speaks during a press conference on immigration reform as U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA) and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) look on at the U.S. Capitol March 30, 2006 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo is set to formally announce next week that he intends to seek the Republican presidential nomination. The Associated Press reports he will make the announcement in Iowa, where he has spent time courting conservative activists while exploring a bid. His campaign is promoting a "major campaign announcement" during an appearance by Tancredo on a Des Moines radio program.

Unfamiliar to most voters, especially in a vast field of candidates that includes names like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, Tancredo has the potential to make some noise in a state like Iowa. Tancredo has turned concerns about illegal immigration into something of a personal crusade, and we can expect to hear plenty on that issue. He has called for tougher measures to secure the border and is a fierce opponent of reforms that feature anything like amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.

He's also recently stepped up his organizational efforts. Last week, Bay Buchanan, sister to and campaign manager for Pat Buchanan's three presidential efforts, joined Tancredo as a senior adviser.

Buchanan has experience organizing in the critical states of Iowa and New Hampshire and knows how to make do with less. Pat Buchanan's lean campaigns relied primarily on small donations from grass-roots conservatives. An official close to Tancredo told CBSNews.com that Tancredo's exploratory committee has raised somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 million during the past two months, almost exclusively from small donors.

Compared with the tens of millions front-runners are likely to weigh in with for the first quarter of the year, ending Saturday, it's not much — but it's enough to keep a bare-bones campaign on the trail throughout the summer if he can keep that find-raising pace up.

And Tancredo has a natural foil to play against for attention. President Bush, Sen. McCain and other Republicans support guest worker programs and other measures to provide a road to citizenship for some illegal immigrants already in the country. It's a position that divides some Republicans, especially those motivated to visit local caucuses on a cold winter's night.

Unless lightening strikes (maybe multiple times), Tancredo won't come roaring out of these early states. But his presence in the race might provide a preview of how divisive an issue illegal immigration might prove for Republicans further down the road in 2008.

A Running Mate In Every Port: If you're a politician residing in or near one of the critical primary states and your name is not floated by someone as a potential running mate, you might want to reassess your career.

Campaigning in South Carolina on Thursday, Mitt Romney was asked about his potential choice for a vice presidential nominee. He threw out the names of some folks the crowd was very familiar with. Romney mentioned two South Carolinians — Republican Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. Jim DeMint — along with southerners Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush, the president's brother and former governor of Florida.

McCain's Iowa travels with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty spurred plenty of VP speculation in those neighboring states recently. Both McCain and Romney were quick to say it's far too early in the process for such speculation — but don't expect the calendar to stop it. After all, who doesn't want their name mentioned as a potential vice president?

Big Positions Make For Big Targets: Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell may find it difficult to avoid a tough re-election campaign in 2008. The Kentucky Republican has been busy fighting off Democrats in Washington and trying to repair a party in disarray back home. In between all that, he might want to start thinking about himself.

A national liberal advocacy group is spending a reported $200,000 on a television ad pressuring McConnell in his home state. The ad juxtaposes past positive assessments the senator has made about the war with some of the more grim statistics. The ad calls on Kentucky voters to "tell Mitch McConnell: Stop blocking change in Iraq."

Under his leadership, Senate Republicans have blocked votes on some Democratic efforts to change Iraq policy, although a funding measure that calls for a timetable for withdrawal passed this week. In Kentucky, Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher has been embroiled in a scandal revolving around questions of his administration's hiring practices and is being challenged in the GOP primary by other Republicans, most notably former Rep. Ann Northup. McConnell's party is trying to hold onto the governor's seat it won four years ago for the first time in more than 30 years.

It's an atmosphere similar to one faced by a party leader for the Democrats in 2004. Running for re-election in a strong Republican state, then-Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle was defeated by former Rep. John Thune in a tight race that was heavily influenced by outside forces intent on picking off a high-profile national figure. Look for Democrats to keep McConnell high on their target list for 2008.

Editor's Note: Pure Horserace is a daily update of political news as interpreted by the political observers at CBSNews.com. Click here to sign up for the e-mail version, coming soon to an in-box near you.

By Vaughn Ververs