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Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Richardson Not Throwing in the Towel Yet
By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
MANCHESTER, N.H. Gov. Bill Richardson vowed to stay in the Democratic presidential race Tuesday night despite finishing far behind the leaders in the New Hampshire primary.
His second fourth-place finish this month, coming five days after taking 2 percent of the delegate count in Iowa, raised questions about how much farther down the campaign trail he'll go.
"This race is going on and on and on," the New Mexico governor told about 150 supporters at a Manchester conference center after the New Hampshire polls closed. "As we head out West the fight goes on!"
A smiling Richardson took the stage to supporters' chants of "We want Bill!" He said he would move his campaign on to Nevada, which holds its presidential caucuses Jan. 19.
With about 95 percent of the New Hampshire precincts reporting, Richardson had about 5 percent of the Democratic vote here.
F. Chris Garcia, a longtime political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said Richardson's failure to capture at least 10 percent of the New Hampshire vote is an omen for his campaign.
"It was very symbolically significant to get double digits," Garcia said. "It would have strengthened his hand and encouraged his supporters.
"Momentum is very important in politics, and he's not gaining any momentum," Garcia said.
Richardson, who has invested at least a year in his national campaign, left New Hampshire on Tuesday night to return to New Mexico. A 30-day state legislative session convenes in Santa Fe on Jan. 15.
The governor's aides said he will resume his presidential campaigning in Nevada later this week.
Richardson told voters this week that he needed to finish in the top three in New Hampshire, but in brief comments to the Journal Tuesday night, Richardson said he wanted to test his appeal in the West.
"We're going to spend a couple of days in New Mexico and then get ready for Nevada," Richardson said. "I want to see how we do out West."
Michael Griffith, a Richardson supporter who used vacation time to campaign in New Hampshire, nursed a martini at the bar after the Manchester conference center event Tuesday night.
"It's been an uphill battle, but he had the best experience of anyone running," a melancholy-looking Griffith said.
Richardson arrived in New Hampshire on Friday politically wounded from his low finish in the Iowa caucuses. But he quickly tried to convince voters he was happy to be in the "final four."
He retained his seat for Saturday night's Democratic debate at Saint Anselm College here and, afterward, many New Hampshire voters told him it was his best performance.
Although Richardson spent more time and money in Iowa, he also invested heavily in New Hampshire, with a paid staff of more than 40 and eight field offices. But he was unable to afford television advertisements in the waning days of the campaign and the national media mostly ignored him.
Richardson began traveling to New Hampshire with his eye on a presidential bid in late 2005. He returned frequently, wooing potential voters at chambers of commerce, senior centers, local diners and dozens of small gatherings in private homes.
When Richardson marched in the 2006 Manchester St. Patrick's Day parade wearing three shades of green, many spectators said they had only a vague idea of who he was, but they liked his personality.
"You know I'm really Irish, right?" the Hispanic governor would often joke with New Hampshire voters, many of whom are of Irish descent.
But the New Hampshire goodwill never translated into solid political support.
In the end, Richardson's personality, experience and plain old hard work couldn't trump the broad name recognition and well-honed messages of his better-funded Democratic rivals.
'Timing was miserable'
Paul Manuel, director of the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College here, said Richardson's resume was an afterthought in a New Hampshire campaign that suddenly focused on change, or new blood, instead of experience.
"His timing was miserable," Manuel said. "Everyone knows he is eminently qualified. Obama wouldn't even be in the running if experience was the test. Change really is what's driving this election."
As he had throughout the campaign, Richardson spent his final days in New Hampshire arguing to anyone who would listen that he was the only candidate who would quickly end the war in Iraq and bring American troops home.
Dick Bouley, a longtime New Hampshire lobbyist who served as Richardson's chairman in the state, said Richardson worked as hard as anybody in the race, but found it especially tough to vault into contention coming out of Iowa with a 2 percent showing.
"It makes it very difficult," Bouley said.