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Richardson Running Again, But For State Or National?
January 16, 2005
There's at least one big political question looming over the coming 60-day state legislative session that begins Tuesday.
Is Gov. Bill Richardson really preparing to run for president in 2008? Is he serious?
It's a question neither this reporter nor the Journal's Michael Coleman in Washington can avoid.
In New Mexico, the Legislature has plenty of big issues to tackle over the next two months, including crime, education and taxes.
Richardson says state issues are his first priority -- followed by getting re-elected to a second term in 2006 and leading the Democratic Governors Association. After that, he says he's not ruling anything out.
I'll argue the presidential question is relevant because Richardson's performance on state issues will set the record if he decides to run. And it could affect how the Legislature chooses to support or oppose the clearly ambitious Democrat.
This reporter found several theories about Richardson's future last week.
* Theory No. 1: Maybe the pundits and talk show people are just bored. Richardson's name pops up all over the world as a potential candidate in news reports -- from Iowa to the Wall Street Journal Web site to "Meet the Press."
Who's running is probably more fun on television than a local concern, like charter school policy, Medicaid or the budget.
Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff has watched Richardson's career since the 1970s.
"Timing-wise, it's still in the pundit arena since President Bush hasn't even been inaugurated yet for his new term," Sanderoff said last week. " ... But the reality is that presidential campaigns get started earlier and earlier, and so part of it is a media thing. With the advent of 24-hour TV news and Internet blogs and banter, the political pundits need something to talk about. So why not talk about who's up next for president?"
But Sanderoff also noted that Richardson has clearly positioned himself as a moderate Democrat who's both tough on crime and cuts taxes.
(Many Republicans argue the governor has just raised fees and taxes in other areas to balance the budget with tax cuts.)
But no matter what the pundits say, Sanderoff explained, the candidates for 2008 don't have a choice: They have to get organized now.
"The candidates have to get on the ball and lay groundwork early and see how it falls out," Sanderoff said.
* Theory No. 2: Richardson's public relations armada is the only thing pushing this idea.
A state lawmaker from Roswell says the presidential question is a lot like the speculation that Richardson had a chance to be John Kerry's running mate last year.
"It kind of goes along the lines of when he thought he had an opportunity to be the vice president," Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, said. "Did anyone ever ask him to be vice president -- other than Billy Sparks?"
Sparks is Richardson's chief communications director.
Foley -- who said he would discuss his political future after the session -- also complimented Richardson's heavy media presence.
"He is an expert at self-promotion," Foley said. "I applaud the guy. He makes Karl Rove and those guys jealous."
* Theory No. 3: Heck yes, Richardson is running in 2008.
National political commentator Larry Sabato from the University of Virginia says Richardson is a contender -- if he wants to be.
"There are only four or five seriously mentioned candidates," Sabato said. "And he's one of them."
Others include Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; and John Edwards, D-N.C. Sabato also mentioned Virginia Gov. Mark Warner.
"The Democratic bench has been emptied. It really has. The Democrats have lost several elections in a row," Sabato added.
And Richardson brings a lot to the game, he argued. Sabato mentioned Richardson's tenure as Energy Secretary, New Mexico congressman and United Nations ambassador.
"Look at Richardson's resume," Sabato said. "It doesn't get much better than that -- wholly apart from his ethnic and geographic identity."
Hispanics are the key swing minority group in elections now, Sabato said, and the Southwest is an important area.
But Democrats tend to nominate liberals in their primary, Sabato explained.
"The people who nominate in primaries and caucuses in the Democratic primary are overwhelmingly liberal," Sabato said. "They're very ideological. But they would love to nominate a minority. And that's where Richardson can get a pass."
Richardson hasn't been all that liberal in the past few years, Sabato explained.
"Being governor makes you more moderate because you have to deal with real issues," Sabato said. "Ideology just doesn't work in the governorship."
Professor Lonna Atkeson of the University of New Mexico noted that Richardson has to win re-election for governor by a big margin if he has any hopes for 2008.
"Running in 2008 makes sense," Atkeson said. "He's not going to admit it. Because it's not time to do that."