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It's Official: Richardson Is In

Excerpts of Gov. Bill Richardson's interview with the Journal

By Jeff Jones
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
    Gov. Bill Richardson says he's done mincing words.
    "I'm going to run," Richardson said in an interview for the Sunday Journal. "That's on the record. I'm going to run."
    Expressing optimism while acknowledging he's a long shot for the White House, the governor said he will file documents with the Federal Election Commission on Monday to form a presidential exploratory committee and seek the Democratic nomination in 2008.
    The popular 59-year-old governor is expected to tell the rest of the country later today on ABC's "This Week," hosted by George Stephanopoulos. It typically airs in New Mexico at 4 p.m. on KOAT-TV, but today it will also appear at 7 a.m.
    Entering a crowded Democratic presidential field that includes Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama, Richardson said he knows he's not at the front of the pack right now.
    But he said things could break his way.
    "I'm definitely an underdog: All you have to do is look at all the polls," Richardson said with a laugh during the interview at an Albuquerque hotel. "But I'm comfortable. The race is a year away. I'm going to outwork everybody."
    He also made an appeal to New Mexicans, who re-elected him as governor in November with a record 69 percent of the vote:
    "I hope New Mexicans get behind me in this quest. If I'm elected president, I will take care of New Mexico. ... I hope we make it New Mexico's quest."
    The formation of the exploratory committee— a common first official step for presidential contenders— will mark the beginning of Richardson's fundraising for the Oval Office bid.
    It would kick off a long election campaign that could extend to November 2008, when voters pick the 44th president of the United States. That would follow what is expected to be a heated battle to select the Democratic nominee— officially decided at the party's convention in Denver in August 2008.
    Richardson said he will be making campaign trips during New Mexico's 60-day legislative session, which began Tuesday. But he said his major campaigning and money-raising will commence with a formal announcement event after the legislative session concludes in mid-March.
    "I'll do some now, but most of the fundraising and travel will come after the legislative session ends," Richardson said. "My priority is the session— getting my agenda passed."
    Richardson last week asked state lawmakers to pass an ambitious agenda that includes tax cuts, a giant road bill, a minimum-wage boost, millions of new dollars for schools and expansion of health care.
    For the first time, he has endorsed a move to end New Mexico's status as one of only two states in the nation that allows cockfighting.
    He acknowledged he will be busy with his White House run after the session concludes but vowed, "I will not neglect my duties as governor after the session."
    Richardson's national political bid will put Lt. Gov. Diane Denish at the helm of New Mexico government during the periods Richardson is crisscrossing the country.
    Richardson's move could be a huge political perk for Denish: She plans to run for governor in 2010, when Richardson's term ends.
    There is a strong possibility that popular Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez will also seek the state's top job.
Broad experience
    At the national level, Richardson joins a Democratic field that includes several firsts: Clinton hopes to become the first female president; Obama aims to be the country's first black president; and Richardson is out to become the first Hispanic in the White House.
    Richardson is only a blip in presidential polling: Some polls have put him at 2 percent and 4 percent.
    However, many political observers have taken note of his impressive résumé.
    Richardson represented New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District for 14 years and has served as United States ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy under former Democratic President Bill Clinton. He plowed his way into the New Mexico governor's office in 2002, easily winning a second term last year.
    All along, he has built a reputation as an international troubleshooter who has negotiated with dictators and despots from North Korea to Iraq to Sudan.
    In 1995, for example, Richardson went to Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein to secure the release of two Americans. He traveled to Sudan earlier this month in hopes of cutting a deal that would allow U.N. peacekeepers into that African country. But he came away only with a temporary cease-fire agreement that could be described as shaky at best.
    Richardson told the Journal his broad experience sets him apart from other Democratic hopefuls.
    "With my record, I am able to walk the walk and talk the talk," he said. " ... A lot of these other candidates can have positions on the major issues affecting the country: I've actually done it."
    Richardson has laid out some of the planks of his candidate platform.
    "The next president must be able, No. 1, to get us out of Iraq," he said.
    "No. 2, the next president must be able to restore America's standing in the world," he said. "That is basically talking through our differences with nations we don't have a dialogue with. North Korea. Iran. Syria. Sudan.
    "No. 3, energy: We've got to become energy independent, and we've got to fight global warming," he said. "I have direct experience doing that as secretary of energy, as governor of New Mexico."
    Richardson said job growth and alleviating poverty are high on his list and said his experience as governor would be a great asset in the White House.
    "I believe this nation needs a unifier, a healer, somebody that can work across party lines. And as governor, you have to do that— and this is where governors are better presidents and have more success. Because if you're not bipartisan as a governor, you don't get anything done."
    Richardson's success in working with state lawmakers has met with mixed reviews. Many lawmakers, including a notable list from his own party, have grumbled about what they see as his strong-arm tactics to ram his measures through the Legislature.
    But, when it comes to a Richardson presidential candidacy, many New Mexico voters think it would be a good thing. A Journal Poll in August 2006 found 40 percent of state voters surveyed said it would be good for the state; 36 percent said it wouldn't matter; and only 18 percent said it would be bad.
War chest
    Richardson has an uphill battle for campaign cash.
    Elections law allows federal officeholders such as Sens. Clinton and Obama to use leftover cash from their Senate campaigns for their presidential funds— a perk that does not apply to state officeholders such as Richardson.
    Clinton is far and away the current war-chest winner among Democrats: FEC records show she had more than $14.3 million at the end of November. Obama's Senate re-election fund had more than $755,000 in cash on hand as of September.
    Richardson has been New Mexico's top fundraiser, bringing in a boatload of cash for his 2006 gubernatorial re-election push. He also scored millions more for other Democratic gubernatorial candidates in his past role as chair of the Democratic Governors Association.
    "Once the session is over, I will increase my fundraising time. It's a reality," Richardson said. "I'm not going to be competitive with the higher-tiered candidates, but I will be competitive. I've raised money nationally. I raised $13 million for my governor's race. ... I have contacts around the country."
    Richardson added that he hasn't set any specific campaign benchmarks for the year leading to the 2008 primary season, where Democrats in key states will help choose the party's candidate.
    "I don't have any timetables. I've always approached races with a view that if you have a vision, if you're positive, if you're patriotic, if you try to bring people together and you have passion and sincerity, you work hard— and most importantly, if you have a record— that things will come your way."
On the Web
    Excerpts of Gov. Bill Richardson's interview with the Journal can be found at www.abqjoural.com
On the air
    KOAT Channel 7 will air the ABC news show "This Week," featuring Gov. Bill Richardson, at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. today
Journal staff writer Leslie Linthicum contributed to this report.