By now you’ve probably heard that Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) is forming an exploratory committee to run for President in 2008. And by now you’ve probably heard people say, “Is he crazy? He’ll never win.” Those people are correct, but that isn’t the point.

Tancredo is going to run for President because he knows that he can still come out ahead even if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination. His spokesman has said that finishing third would be a great accomplishment, and if Tancredo can just be an interesting also-ran, he has an outside shot of being the running mate for the eventual nominee. Tancredo certainly can’t capture the nomination for President, but he might be able to come close enough to make himself exciting. As the Rocky Mountain News reported today:

David Yepsen, political columnist for the Des Moines Register, said Tancredo is vying to follow in the footsteps of other Republicans who helped shape past presidential contests, even if they did not win…

…Critics of Tancredo’s fiery immigration rhetoric might dismiss him as “Tancrazy,” Yepsen wrote on Monday, but “objective observers of caucus politics understand he could be a factor in the race – if he mounts a credible effort here.”

The reason, Yepsen explained in an interview later, is that Iowa’s GOP results will be decided by an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 hard-core partisans.

“For candidates who track the true believers, you don’t have to attract too many people to have an impact,” Yepsen said.

Tancredo finished in second place to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in a recent straw poll conducted in a South Carolina county, which suggests to me that Tancredo’s pet issue of illegal immigration could be strong enough in a Republican primary to carry him to a decent finish. If illegal immigration ends up as one of the top two or three issues to GOP voters a year from now, it isn’t inconceivable that Tancredo could get a lot of votes from people who want to see a tougher stance on the issue. If he could come in second in a few primary states, there would be some talk about the eventual nominee adding him to the ticket as Vice President.

Even Vice President is probably a little too much to hope for if you are Tancredo, however, because he has said so many ridiculously inflammatory things over the years that he would be easy fodder for attacks by the Democratic ticket. But for Tancredo, the worst-case scenario is that he gets to act out his immigration fears on a national stage and make a bigger name for himself in the process; that could lead to a nice cushy job running a think tank somewhere, which isn’t a bad prize for third place.