Bill Gets Two Breaks: One Good, One Bad
By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- Not only has Gov. Bill Richardson had trouble breaking out among America's voters, he's even struggling to get noticed by Hispanics.
With a name like Richardson, he fades into the crowd among potential Hispanic voters. In Congress, it was easy to get noticed and he soon became chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. But with all Hispanic voters in the nation to reach, it is difficult for an unknown candidate from an unknown state.
Richardson did catch a break recently when Univision, the nation's largest Spanish language network, announced it would invite presidential candidates to debate in Spanish. That is tailor made for Richardson.
So why would anyone else even try? Well, it seems that many candidates find the ability to speak Spanish important even if they embrace English Only. Spanish language classes are popular on Capitol Hill. Maybe those who are worried Spanish will become our national language figure they'd better learn to speak it now.
It turns out that some of the presidential candidates can converse in Spanish. Sen. Chris Dodd was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. He and Barack Obama have delivered the Democrats' weekly Hispanic Radio Address.
Mitt Romney has aired a Spanish language radio ad featuring a son who did a Mormon missionary stint in Chile. He also has an "En Espanol" option on his campaign Web site.
In the last two presidential elections, George Bush and his Democratic opponents would switch to Spanish whenever they thought it might help. So far, only Richardson and Dodd have accepted the debate invitations.
It will be a wonderful opportunity for Richardson to get his message out on the fifth most watched network channel. It has more viewers than CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.
Richardson got a bad break when Los Angeles Mayor Tony Villaraigosa decided to endorse Hillary Clinton. He's a rising star in the party, so all Democratic candidates were seeking his endorsement. He's widely expected to run for California governor next.
Richardson campaigned for Villaraigosa both times he has run for Los Angeles mayor. And Villaraigosa attended Richardson's first inaugural. He might have attended his second inaugural also. I saw him at the first one and he told me Richardson had sent him two tickets.
But Hillary had more to bargain with. She is leading most polls and she got an important assist from former President Clinton , whom Villaraigosa admires. It appears the mayor was more interested in picking a winner than supporting a fellow Latino.
Villaraigosa could have done much more for Richardson than he can do for Hillary. She already has high name recognition. He may give her a little more credibility among Hispanics. But she already has quite a few other Hispanic leaders on board.
Richardson does have some Hispanic supporters at Univision. Former Chairman and CEO Jerry Perenchio, a California Republican and major political donor to Richardson's two gubernatorial campaigns, might have had some influence on hosting the presidential debates. Henry Cisneros, another Richardson buddy, has also been on the Univision board.
Richardson says Villaraigosa's decision to go with Clinton is insignificant to his campaign, but that is much like saying low poll numbers don't mean anything. What else can a candidate say?
Our governor is still in fast-forward mode. As blogger Joe Monahan puts it, just reading Richardson's schedule is tiring. Recent pictures don't look good. He appears to have put back on the weight he lost. He's not as animated as he used to be. We seldom see that disarming boyish grin anymore.
He even looked bad in his funny television commercials. You've gotta do something about those bags under your eyes, Bill. I was about to compare you to Mo Udall and his lament about being too funny to be president.
But you have to smile again before I can do that.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com