Former Congressman Tom Tancredo would lead Colorado's crowded Republican gubernatorial primary field and be in a dead heat with the leading Democratic candidate Jared Polis if he enters the race, according to a survey conducted by Donald Trump's presidential campaign pollster.
However, the poll found that about half the likely primary and general election voters remain undecided roughly eight months before the primary and a year before the general election.
The results of the poll, obtained exclusively by Colorado Politics, show "a real path to victory" for Tancredo, who twice ran unsuccessfully for governor, said pollster Matt Braynard of the Washington, D.C.-based Braynard Group.
The survey of 1,000 likely Colorado voters and 400 likely Republican primary election voters, conducted in late September, shows Tancredo atop a primary field of six declared and potential GOP candidates with 22 percent, with the runner-up, state Treasurer Walker Stapleton at 8.5 percent.
Jefferson County District Attorney George Brauchler was next with 6.8 percent, followed by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman - a potential gubernatorial candidate - with 5.6 percent. Former state lawmaker and businessman Victor Mitchell and former investment banker Doug Robinson had under 1 percent. Braynard didn't include declared candidates Steve Barlock, Greg Lopez and Jim Rundberg in the survey.
The poll shows 54.3 percent of primary voters undecided and has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.16 percent, Braynard said.
Eight Republicans and seven Democrats have declared they're running for the seat held by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a term-limited Democrat.
In a head-to-head matchup, Polis, a five-term congressman from Boulder, leads Tancredo 25.3 percent to 24.7 percent, within the poll's margin of error, with 47.2 percent of respondents saying they're unsure.
Tancredo has been a polarizing politician since his days in Congress. He is known nationally for taking a hard line on illegal immigration which he has called a battle for the future of Western civilization. He drew a rebuke from the State Department under President George W. Bush for saying if Islamic extremists struck the United States with nuclear weapons, America should retaliate by bombing Mecca in Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally.
Tancredo, who has been exploring a run for governor since late August, told Colorado Politics on Tuesday he'd seen the poll and was encouraged by the results.
"What it tells me is that there is no Republican candidate that has caught on. I know they're trying, and I know some of them have raised a lot of money, but it doesn't translate into support," Tancredo said.
He said he's trying to determine if he can raise enough money for a race that includes wealthy candidates willing to pour millions of dollars into their campaigns, as well as others with a big head start on fundraising.
"That is the big 'if,'" Tancredo said. "When I tell you it's still a tentative thing, it really does revolve around that issue - can I raise the money? Because no mater what, I've got lots of support, that's great, and I probably have up to $5 million of name recognition the other candidates are going to have to buy."
Braynard came to a similar conclusion in a polling memo obtained by Colorado Politics.
"In both the general and primary, there are enough undecided voters for a disciplined candidate with well-organized campaign to mold a winning majority from the electorate," Braynard wrote. "Tom Tancredo can be that candidate. He is battle tested and starts with a significant lead in the primary. ... If he can raise the funds necessary to be competitive, he's got a real path to victory in front of him."
Pollsters and campaign officials working with some of the other GOP candidates disputed Braynard's conclusion about the poll's findings.
"George Brauchler has won every straw poll conducted throughout the state by overwhelming margins thanks to a robust conservative grassroots campaign and a positive vision for Colorado's future," Brauchler's campaign manager, Ryan Lynch, told Colorado Politics after reviewing the poll. "With momentum on his side, George has advanced to the top of the GOP field for governor."
David Hill, a longtime pollster and the lead consultant on Mitchell's campaign, said it was far too early to jump to any conclusions about the gubernatorial race.
"This poll suggests that the races (primary and general) are wide open," Hill said in an email. "The candidates are still building name ID and will be into next spring. I doubt that any poll taken before March or April will be much different."
He added that he suspects the poll is part of a plan by former top Trump strategist Steve Bannon to run "insurgent" candidates against incumbent and mainstream Republicans nationwide - a suggestion Braynard denied.
"This poll seems to have all the marks of being a Bannon plant. Part of 'the season of war,'" Hill wrote in an email, referencing a phrase Bannon used recently when he declared war on establishment Republicans he blames for blocking Trump's agenda. "Tancredo may be too smart to take the bait and be a pawn in Bannon's game."
Tancredo confirmed he met with Bannon this month in Colorado Springs to discuss a possible run for governor but said it was just a casual discussion.
Braynard declined to reveal who commissioned the poll.