WASHINGTON -- Bill Richardson, the avuncular governor of New Mexico, an internationalist with a gold-plated resume, announced yesterday his intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination, making history as the first Latino to have a credible chance to lead a national ticket.
On paper, Richardson's credentials are unassailable. He has served as a member of Congress, ambassador to the United Nations, energy secretary and, since, 2002, the governor of a state in the heart of the rapidly growing Sun Belt.
Yet he enters a contest crowded with big names, a fact punctuated Saturday with the entry of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, joining Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and John Edwards, the Democratic nominee as vice president in 2004, among several others.
The competition to raise money will be at least as intense as the one to gain attention, and on both scores, Richardson will face enormous obstacles. However, Richardson also possesses political skills. He has the ability to fill a big room for a speech and also conduct the kind of retail campaigning that is essential in Iowa and New Hampshire. He is not afraid to use humor, either in his speeches or campaign commercials. And he is a strong debater.
In a statement yesterday on his Web site, Richardson announced that he was forming an exploratory committee "with the clear intention of seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2008." A spokesman said the formal announcement would come in March when the New Mexico Legislature ends its session.
"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 said in his statement. "Our reputation in the world is diminished, our economy has languished and civility and common decency in government has perished."
He said the next president "must get our troops out of Iraq without delay," though he has called for a phased withdrawal of troops. Then, noting his extensive experience in international affairs, he said, "I know the Middle East well and it's clear that our presence in Iraq isn't helping any longer."
While he no doubt will emphasize his international experience, Richardson will also take advantage of his perch in a governor's mansion, clearly the easiest path to the White House over the past 30 years. Richardson won re-election in November with nearly 70 percent of the vote, a state record, but he won't have the statehouse story to himself because former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is also in the race.
"Most public policy solutions these days are coming from governors and state governments," Richardson said, "and that's because we can't be partisan or we won't get our jobs done."
Richardson also brings to the race a life of multiculturalism, something that he and Obama share. His father was an American banker and his mother was Mexican. He grew up in Mexico City before attending prep school and college in New England.
In an interview yesterday on ABC's This Week, Richardson acknowledged his heritage but emphasized that he was not running as a "Hispanic candidate." The announcement on his Web site contained messages in Spanish and English.
His candidacy spotlights the emerging role that Latinos play in the cultural and political life of the United States. The potential potency of the Latino vote has been the object of intense attention by Republicans and Democrats, but so far Democrats clearly have the advantage.
The Democrats in particular have been trying to capitalize on the surge in Latino voters in critical states such as Florida and in states such as Arizona and Nevada, where caucuses will be among the first nominating contests in 2008.
Seen as a risk-taker, Richardson is no stranger to the world's trouble spots and has often engaged in negotiations to secure the release of hostages and others taken into custody. Last year, he helped secure the release of Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Salopek, a New Mexico resident who was taken into custody in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Richardson has often criticized the Bush administration for its reluctance to engage other nations in diplomacy and pledged that he would be more of an activist. Specifically, he said he would reach out to Iran and Syria about Iraq, a step that the president has refused to take.
Michael Tackett writes for the Los Angeles Times.