Inside the Capitol

Sunday, December 17, 2006

12-20 Can Bill Gain Traction?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What does Gov. Bill Richardson have to do to gain traction in the 2008 presidential race?
Despite doing more things right than any other presidential candidate, he still lags far behind in the presidential pack. In some polls, he has been in the mid-range but in the latest reported poll, he's at the bottom.
Here's what seems right about Richardson's candidacy.
He's a governor. Americans like moving governors up to president because they have experience in managing a bureaucracy. He has some successes he can boast and he managed the U.S. Energy Department for two years.
He has foreign relations experience. That's something governors almost never have, yet Richardson has more successes in that area than any candidate.
He's from the Southwest. Voters continually reject northerners. The last seven presidents come from the south or the west.
He's a centrist. That's a word of recent coinage by Democrats. Republicans still use moderate. Bill Clinton popularized the word. George W. Bush called himself a compassionate conservative to mean about the same thing and attract crossover votes.
He has a compelling story. Richardson's book "Between Worlds" tells the story of a boy with an American father and a Mexican mother, growing up in Mexico and coming to the United States for high school, college and a career in diplomacy. What better preparation for dealing with major issues like terrorism and immigration?
He has been on the national stage. With two presidential cabinet positions, chairmanship of the 2004 Democratic National Convention and president of the National Democratic Governor's Association, Richardson has done about as much as a small state governor can.
So what's wrong?
Well, that small-state thing really hurts. Richardson makes the front page of New Mexico newspapers with great frequency. But that's not the same as frequently making the front page of the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune, as do the top candidates in the field. If the North Koreans come to see Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama twice in four years, it would have made much bigger news. Same for going to Sudan to rescue hostages.
Let's face it, Richardson doesn't have the star power of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who also was the nation's first lady for eight years and in the news constantly.
And he doesn't have whatever it is that Barack Obama has. If someone can put that in words, please let me know. I don't understand it, but it's making him a rock-star success.
Obama's message of hope and optimism seems similar to Bill Clinton's "The Boy From Hope" mantra. Obama's new book is called "The Audacity of Hope" and he seems to be connecting with Democrats the same way Bill Clinton did.
Richardson has charisma but Obama seems to have an extra dose. He is delivering a message, somewhat to the left of Richardson, that Democrats like to hear, with a passion that inspires them to follow even though there is so little to be known about him.
The Hillary and Obama steamrollers already have mowed down two other Democratic candidates with qualifications similar to Richardson's. Virginia's former Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Senator and former Governor Evan Bayh became discouraged by the long odds of overtaking the celebrity candidates.
In the 13 months before the primaries begin, many things can happen. Howard Dean rose to the top, then sunk to the bottom during that period four years ago. John Kerry emerged out of nowhere.
Most Democrats realize they know too much about Hillary Clinton and too little about Barack Obama to be very comfortable with either. Maybe that leaves some room for a candidate with Richardson's qualifications.
Govs. George Bush and Ronald Reagan were both from big states and well-known before their presidential runs, but Govs. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton weren't. So there remains hope, however faint.
WED, 12-20-06

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



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