2-28 Nevada and New Hampshire Musts for Richardson
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Presidential candidate Bill Richardson did well for himself at the Nevada "debate." He was smooth and relaxed and he positioned himself as the Western Candidate, not only in words but in style and in dress.
Richardson was the only candidate not wearing a suit. Instead, he wore a sport coat and boots. His audience consisted primarily of union members and reporters. Not a suit in sight.
In addition to dressing more casually, Richardson acted more casually, often joking with moderator George Stephanopoulos. He also was more straightforward, admitting that he had supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, a no-no with union members.
How much good this will do Richardson in the Silver State is still to be seen. What we do know is that Richardson has to do well in Nevada. Of the early-primary states, it is most like New Mexico, including its high percentage of Hispanics, which should be helpful to Richardson.
And likely Richardson's biggest advantage in Nevada is that his campaign chairman is New Mexico native Reynaldo Martinez, who headed Harry Reid's U.S. Senate campaign when the Democrat won election in Republican Nevada.
Martinez then went to Washington with Reid as his chief of staff for many years. Martinez grew up in Chama. Where better than Rio Arriba County to learn the rough and tumble game of politics?
As Senate Majority leader, Reid cannot make any endorsements in the presidential primary, since so many Senate Democrats are in the race. But Martinez surely knows Reid's political machine, which is a powerful force in Nevada Democratic politics.
Richardson has told Nevadans how much he loves them and wants their votes. He has pledged to visit every county in the state. The gesture indicates how important Nevada is to Richardson but it won't get him many votes.
Clark County has 70 percent of Nevada's population and probably 90 percent of its Democrats. The Democrat strength is in the casino service workers union centered in Las Vegas.
But Bill Richardson has another love. And that is New Hampshire. He has told voters there that they are more important to him than voters anywhere else. He even joked that he should move there for the rest of his campaign.
But Richardson doesn't need to move back to New Hampshire. Just as with Martinez in Nevada, Richardson also has a secret weapon in New Hampshire. Butch Maki, who has been a mainstay of Richardson campaigns since 1979, recently moved back to the Granite State.
The move wasn't a sacrifice for the high-powered New Mexico businessman and lobbyist. Maki is from New Hampshire and says he was planning to retire to his home state anyway. Maki says he's not on Richardson's staff but bet on him spending a big chunk of time on the campaign.
Richardson already has spent a great deal of time in New Hampshire as chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association. It's obvious that Nevada and New Hampshire are the keystones of Richardson's presidential ambitions. They are the second and third events on the current Democratic presidential campaign schedule.
The Iowa caucuses are first. Richardson hasn't focused as much on that race since Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack also was a candidate. Richardson is counting on Democrat governors giving him a boost in their states. With Vilsack now out, Richardson might get some help there.
In addition, Barack Obama, from neighboring Illinois, is keying on the state. Obama skipped the Nevada debate in order to campaign in Iowa and made a big deal out of his decision.
Obama's no-show in Nevada didn't keep him from being a subject of debate, however. Sen. Hillary Clinton took a heavy swipe at him for a statement by one of his Hollywood supporters.
John Edwards, in turn took a swipe at Clinton for not admitting her original vote for invading Iraq was wrong.
And Gov. Richardson grabbed some of the spotlight for proposing that all candidates sign a pledge not to attack each other.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org