Inside the Capitol

Friday, December 08, 2006

12-13 I Am Running...

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Let's get this straight. When Gov. Bill Richardson decides whether to run for president, we'll know.
His press aides will bug us for days about the "major announcement" he will be making and they will refuse to confirm what that announcement will be.
The announcement will not be made on Fox News immediately following a speech in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Gov. Richardson is doing all those things a presidential candidate should do. That's because he deeply wants to run for president. But the decision, either way, is not a slam dunk.
Oh, he has a timetable set for announcing the formation of an exploratory committee and for announcing the results of that exploration. And he knows what he wants that exploratory committee to discover.
But events along the way can change his plan, right up to the final minute. One of those events took place on Dec. 7, 2006 -- a surprise attack by a Fox News reporter.
In answer to a hypothetical question about his strengths should he decide to run for president, Richardson slipped into the present tense and uttered the words "I am running."
It was obvious Richardson was dealing with the hypothetical, but the words slipped out and onto the airwaves. It was Richardson's "Kerry moment." Anything else he said didn't matter. The major speech on immigration he had just made was reported the following day but quickly faded into obscurity.
Richardson is playing in the big leagues now. Out here in the sticks, we tend to be more reasonable. But the national press looks for the slightest misstep, hoping the candidate will reveal what really is in his heart, hoping to provoke a Mel Gibson-Michael Richards sort of slip.
And Richardson obliged. His later explanation was played along with his comment. The context in which he made the comment was obvious, and some would even realize that it was not an interview for which he prepared. It followed a major speech which had consumed his attention.
But the message it delivered was not good. Is this a guy who might blink in the harsh glare of intense negotiation? His performance in hostage situations certainly argues otherwise, but no one got to see those on the 6 o'clock news. They'll remember this shaky start.
Ironically, the botched interview is getting a great deal more coverage than will Richardson's formal announcement. Will that help more than hurt in the final analysis?
Certainly, it will help get his name in front of the average American voter who still is unaware of Richardson's existence. And it won't hurt that his name is connected with running for president. And since Richardson was upset, that makes even bigger news.
We might have expected Richardson to laugh it off with his typical self-deprecating humor. That would have gotten rid of the story quickly. So maybe this works out better.
Richardson got much more coverage by having his staff call media all over the place and plead with them not to run the story. We'd get suspicious if they called and begged us not to cover his formal announcement.
National polls have had Richardson ranked everywhere from the middle of the pack to the bottom, recently. He needs all the exposure he can get. He also needs to get his campaign started as soon as possible.
He can't afford to play coy as he did five years ago when he was the 800-pound gorilla running for governor. In this race, he currently is a 98-pound gorilla running for president.
So maybe the idea should be to spin this as positively as possible and get all the free media out of it that he can.
But that spin needs to be a covert as possible because as soon as the story appears to be good news, the media will be off it and digging for 20-year-old Richardson comments with which to play gotcha.
WED, 12-13-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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