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Richardson Makes It Official: N.M. Won't Supply the VP

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— At least one thing appears resolved in Sen. John Kerry's search for a vice presidential running mate: It won't be New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
    Richardson on Thursday sent a letter to Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, asking that his name be removed from a list of potential running mates.
    He said he was honored that the Massachusetts senator had considered him for the No. 2 spot on the Democratic ticket but also wrote that he was not ready to relinquish his role as governor.
    "I am both honored and flattered that you are seriously considering me for your running mate— as the Democratic vice presidential nominee— in the coming election," Richardson wrote.
    "I must tell you I respectfully remove myself from the selection process and withdraw my name from consideration for the vice presidential nomination," the letter continued. "As you know, when I ran for governor, I made a commitment to the people of New Mexico to serve a full term."
    Richardson's letter came at a time when speculation about Kerry's choice of a potential running mate is at a fever pitch. The Boston Globe, Kerry's hometown newspaper, reported Thursday that he might announce his running mate as early as Tuesday.
    Richardson met with Kerry in Phoenix on Tuesday to discuss the vice presidential search, the Journal learned.
    Jim Johnson, the head of Kerry's vice presidential search committee, also interviewed Richardson for several hours two months ago in Washington.
    Richardson aides stressed Thursday that Kerry never offered Richardson a spot on the ticket but that he was under consideration.
    The Kerry campaign, in a written statement provided to the Journal, said Richardson will be an asset to the campaign regardless.
    "While we don't comment on the selection process, John Kerry has the utmost respect for Bill Richardson as a friend and as a leader in New Mexico and the nation," the statement said. "Gov. Richardson is an integral part of the Kerry campaign and one of the campaign's most active and most requested surrogates."
    Richardson is chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Boston later this month. He vowed in his letter to Kerry to work hard to help him and the Democrats win back the White House.
    "His prominent position (as chairman) sends a signal of how important New Mexico is in this election as a battleground state, and how determined John Kerry is to ensure that Hispanics across the country are at the forefront of his campaign and the Democratic Party," the Kerry statement said.
    Richardson said in his letter to Kerry that, as a Hispanic, he "was particularly touched by your willingness to consider me for the vice presidency."
    Political observers said Richardson, a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and secretary of Energy under President Clinton, was considered as a potential vice presidential contender in part because of his broad experience, especially in foreign affairs.
    As a bilingual Hispanic from New Mexico, Richardson was also viewed as having strong appeal among Western voters and the rapidly growing Hispanic voting bloc.
    However, Richardson also had some factors possibly working against him.
    He comes from a small state with only five electoral votes. He presided over the Department of Energy in 2000, when computer files containing nuclear secrets went missing for a short time. The Wen Ho Lee case— another instance of nuclear security breaches at DOE— also occurred on Richardson's watch.
    While a member of Clinton's Cabinet, Richardson became peripherally involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when he interviewed her for a United Nations job at the Clinton administration's request.
    Richardson, who took office as New Mexico governor at the beginning of 2003, has said repeatedly for months that he was not interested in being Kerry's vice presidential running mate. But many veteran political observers said it would have surprised them if he rejected an actual offer from the Massachusetts senator.
    "We've been consistent about this all along," said David Contarino, Richardson's chief of staff, in a telephone interview Thursday. "This (letter) just puts a final exclamation point on it."
    The Kerry campaign has been extremely tight-lipped about its vice presidential vetting process, but three names are surfacing more than others in recent news reports: Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.; Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.; and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack.
    Richardson's name seemed to have slipped off the radar screen of most national news sources in recent weeks.
    Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Thursday— before he knew about Richardson's letter to Kerry— that he wouldn't count him out as Kerry's top choice for a running mate. He also said the New Mexico governor has his political sights set even higher than the vice presidency.
    "There is no question in my mind that at some point he'll run for president," McAuliffe said in an interview with the Journal.
    Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and an avid observer of Washington politics, said Richardson's disinterest could be a calculated political move.
    He said Richardson could be well-positioned to run for president in 2008 if President Bush wins re-election, or even 2012 if Kerry won this year and then won re-election four years later.
    Richardson would be the first Hispanic presidential candidate in history and could reap the benefits of a Hispanic electorate that is only getting bigger, Sabato said.
    "He just got elected governor," Sabato said. "It makes sense to wait."