washingtonpost.com
N.M. Governor Joins Presidential Race

By Chris Cillizza
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, January 22, 2007

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson began a run for the Democratic presidential nomination yesterday, betting that his long résumé and Hispanic heritage will boost his chances in a field already stocked with better-known candidates.

"I am taking this step because we have to repair the damage that's been done to our country over the last six years," Richardson wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "Our reputation in the world is diminished, our economy has languished, and civility and common decency in government has perished." Richardson also announced his intentions -- in Spanish and English -- on his campaign Web site.

Richardson will file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission today to establish a presidential exploratory committee but will not formally announce his bid until New Mexico's legislative session ends in March.

His announcement comes just one day after Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) joined the Democratic race and less than a week after Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) made his intentions clear. Polling done in early-voting states such as Iowa shows Clinton and Obama in the Democrats' top tier along with former North Carolina senator John Edwards.

Richardson joins a group running behind the top three that includes Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.) and Christopher J. Dodd (Conn.) as well as former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

Unlike the other second-tier candidates, Richardson is making history as he seeks to become the first Hispanic president of the United States. Although Richardson said his ethnicity is not a point of emphasis in the campaign, it could help his chances. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States and are becoming increasingly active and influential in national politics.

Acknowledging that he is not yet on the level of the front-runners, Richardson argued that he alone in the field has a record of creating solutions to tough problems. "I can talk the talk and walk the walk," Richardson said.

Richardson spent 15 years in Congress before being named U.S. ambassador to the United Nations by President Bill Clinton in 1997. A year later he was appointed energy secretary. Richardson returned to elected office in 2002, winning the gubernatorial race. Last fall he cruised to a second term with 69 percent of the vote.

Throughout his career in public life, Richardson has also served as a roving diplomat, dispatched to defuse crises in hot spots including North Korea and Iraq. He spent several days in Sudan last week before making his presidential intentions known.

On Iraq -- the issue which most animates Democratic primary voters -- Richardson has called for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to be completed by the end of this year. "There is no military solution," he said.

Regardless of the strength of his résumé, Richardson faces a rocky path to the nomination. In a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 1 percent of Democratic voters said they would support Richardson in a primary. By contrast, Clinton took 41 percent, Obama 17 percent and Edwards 11 percent.

Asked how he can compete with nationally known candidates such as Clinton and Obama, Richardson said: "I'll outwork them."

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) declined to rule out an independent candidacy for president in 2008.

"I have not decided I am going to run for president, so maybe that'll be the next set of questions that you could ask after I decide what I'm going to do," Hagel said during an interview with C-SPAN.

Hagel has been perhaps the most vocal Republican critic of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq -- a position that could make it difficult for the senator to make a serious run at the GOP nomination.

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