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Richardson Kicks Off 1st Trip as Candidate for the Presidency

By Jeff Jones
Journal Politics Writer
    RENO— The small crowd that gathered near the flashing slot machines at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Saturday afternoon included gushing supporters, a few skeptics and some who were just plain curious.
    All two dozen or so of them were part of the welcome party awaiting Gov. Bill Richardson as he kicked off his first presidential campaign trip to Nevada.
    Richardson wasted no time in firing off some campaign vows during a mini-rally inside The Brew Brothers, an airport pub: He said he would campaign in every Nevada county prior to that state's Jan. 19, 2008, caucus and promised to attend a pair of Nevada candidate forums over the next two months.
    He slipped behind the slot-studded bar to chat in Spanish to one employee and say "Don't forget me, now!" to waitress Dana DeBernardi, who first heard of the energetic New Mexico governor— and his self-acknowledged long-shot bid for the presidency— less than a half hour before she met him.
    Richardson shook as many hands as he could before he strode out of the airport on his way to another campaign event. And he never stopped smiling.
    "I'm after the people in Carson City and Reno. ... This is the part of Nevada that sometimes doesn't get all the attention," Richardson told supporters and local media inside The Brew Brothers. "I'm a fellow Westerner. I'm going to compete very hard here in Nevada."
    Richardson left the airport with at least one vote safely in the pocket of his dark blue blazer: Maritza Perez, an 18-year-old University of Nevada student and member of the campus Young Democrats, said the governor is her front-running candidate.
    "He's my favorite: He's one of my heroes because he's Hispanic— and he might be our first Hispanic president," said Perez, who wore a blue T-shirt that said "Liberal" on it and carried a banner proclaiming, "Bienvenido Gov. Richardson."
    David Richardson of St. Louis, no relation to the governor, shook hands with Richardson and scored a yellow "Nevada for Richardson" button. But he didn't call himself a supporter.
    "Just wanted to see what he looked like," David Richardson, a Republican, said before he met the governor. "He's got a big negative: He worked for Bill Clinton."
    Richardson a week ago today announced in a Sunday Journal story that he was officially seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, joining a steadily growing field that includes political heavyweights Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards.
    Richardson has said the bulk of his campaigning and fundraising will kick off in mid-March, after the current 60-day New Mexico legislative session concludes. With the exception of a quick trip to California in the middle of last week for a fundraiser and speech, this weekend's trip to northwestern Nevada— a Republican-dominated region— is his first out-of-state campaigning trip.
    Following his rally at the Reno airport, he raced off to a closed-door meeting with several dozen local politicos and minority leaders.
    On Saturday night, Richardson was scheduled to talk with Democrats at a sold-out county party dinner in Minden, an hour's drive south of Reno— an event also attended by retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a 2004 Democratic contender and potential presidential in 2008.
    Richardson was slated to attend a private breakfast fundraiser this morning at a popular Reno restaurant, leaving the state later in the day.
    In his public comments at the airport, Richardson touched on what are becoming his key early campaign themes: his long résumé as a former congressman, energy secretary and U.N. ambassador; his opposition to the unpopular Iraq war; and his promise to "outwork" every other candidate.
    He also fielded a question about his Hispanic heritage: "I don't expect that just because I'm a Latino, that I'm going to get the Latino vote. I'm going to fight for every vote."
    Richardson apparently touched on some of the same campaign themes in his private gathering with local leaders, and at one point his strong voice could clearly be heard behind the closed doors at the local Democratic party offices:
    "I know I'm a long shot," he told the group. But "I'm ahead of where (former president) Bill Clinton was at this stage."
    Mike Stratton, a longtime Richardson adviser and Denver resident who accompanied Richardson on the Nevada trip, said it's standard procedure for presidential campaigns to keep the media out of some political gatherings.
    "People feel more comfortable— you get a (more) candid interaction," Stratton said.
    Lucille Adin, president of the Reno/Sparks branch of the NAACP, attended the private gathering with Richardson. She said she came away impressed and believes many others in the room felt the same way.
    "He would make a good candidate," Adin said.
    Ed Acosta, a Silver City native and former scientist who now lives in Nevada, also attended the gathering and believes Richardson has traction in Nevada.
    He said a quarter of the population of northern Nevada is made up of minorities, and "all we have to do is reach out and touch them. There's no doubt he can carry Nevada— easily."


E-MAIL writer Jeff Jones