Inside the Capitol

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Life Imitated Art in Richardson Candidacy


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Talk about life imitating art. Gov. Bill Richardson's first campaign commercials seemed like masterpieces of ironic humor. In them, Richardson applied for the job of president and was found to be overqualified by a disinterested interviewer and later by a disinterested panel.

      Richardson paid for the ads in Iowa but national news shows also ran them as an example of really clever advertising. Bill got a big bang for his buck.

      The problem is that it was true. It really happened. After 40 years of building a nearly perfect resume, Richardson decided to submit his application for president at exactly the wrong time. Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire had grown disinterested in substance and were more interested in style.

      And that was a playing field on which Richardson couldn't compete well. Voters liked his sense of humor but he didn't have the flash and quick-thinking smoothness of the three front runners. 

   And that is all-important in an era of an expanding number of interview shows and televised debates. Bill's performances unfortunately didn't measure up.

   Actually his one-on-one personal style works well only in small states like Iowa and New Hampshire, so if he couldn't compete there, he had no hope.

   It is too bad that Richardson couldn't have stayed in the race until it got out West. Nevada was next on the list and he had invested significant effort in the state, even telling Nevadans that it was his most important state.

   But he couldn't go there without money. Disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire cut that flow to a drip. In retrospect, using the Rudy Giuliani strategy of ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire might have worked better for him.

   But as events developed, the casino workers union, which Richardson had courted, went for Obama as a result of his Iowa victory. Obama's endorsement is a little ironic since he was the only Democratic candidate to ditch the first debate of the year, in Nevada, in order to concentrate on Iowa.

   At that debate, Richardson appeared to receive the second most enthusiastic support. The winner clearly was Hillary Clinton, who since has received a cold shoulder from the casino union, whose members formed the majority of that audience.

   Richardson's chances for selection as a vice-presidential running mate don't appear strong. He just isn't a good balance for a ticket that includes either Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama. A woman and a minority or two minorities on a ticket is just too far out of the political mainstream.

   He's from a small state that can't deliver many electoral votes. He already has tapped New Mexico heavily for campaign contributions so likely couldn't help much with fundraising. His primary election performances didn't prove he will do much for a ticket. And he never emerged as the choice of Hispanics.

   In one of the debates, Richardson asked Clinton if she wouldn't agree that former governors make good presidents. She smiled and answered that they make good vice presidents. The implication seemed to be that she thought of him as vice-presidential stock and that she might choose him as a running mate.

   The answer may not have been one she had thought much about. To find the last former governor who became a vice president, I believe you have to go back to the Woodrow Wilson administration. It is much more common for a governor to run for president  with a U.S. Senate running mate.

   Richardson and Clinton had a flare up on caucus day in Iowa when evidence indicated that he and Obama might have cut a deal on delegates. Richardson denied the deal and says he has smoothed that over with Clinton.

   As for secretary of state, that would require a Democratic victory. There may be some chance for an appointment to that or another post by Clinton but look for Richardson to finish his term as governor.

WED, 1-16-08


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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