WASHINGTON—Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico faced a crucial question Monday as he formally declared his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination: Can he break out of the pack of so-called second-tier candidates and challenge the better-financed and better-known candidates atop the campaign?
"These times call for a leader with a proven track record, and a demonstrated ability to bring people together to tackle our problems at home and abroad," Richardson said in Los Angeles.
"I am that person, not because I say so, but because of what I have done, and what I can do for the American people. The challenge of the campaign I am launching today is to get that message heard."
Richardson, 59, said he was running to undo the "ravages" of the Bush presidency. He'd withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, stress diplomacy as the top tool in U.S. foreign policy, build energy independence, combat global warming and expand health care.
He conceded that many of his Democratic rivals also have good ideas. "But coming up with a good idea is only half the job. The other half is bringing people together to get it done. I'm proud of my record of getting things done. And I'll put that record up against anyone's."
Indeed, Richardson has perhaps the deepest resume among the many Democrats seeking the nomination.
Member of Congress. Ambassador to the United Nations. Secretary of energy. Governor of a Western, Republican-leaning state. He's balanced a budget, cut taxes and negotiated with foreign leaders. He knows how to pull the levers of power.
But he's been upstaged so far by better-known, better-financed candidates such as former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.
He's also a Hispanic, son of an Anglo father and a Mexican mother. That should be an advantage in a Democratic primary. But he's up against a woman and a black—their potential groundbreaking identities are well-known—while his own heritage can be somewhat masked by his Anglo surname.
Still, Richardson is confident that he can do well in the small states that vote first—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina—if he can meet people and tell them what he's done and what he'd do if elected.
"Our challenge, frankly, is to break through the hype of the other candidates," said Dave Contarino, Richardson's campaign manager. "We believe that once voters know of Governor Richardson's background, they'll support him."
Richardson, who raised a respectable $6.2 million in the first quarter of this year, is pouring resources into those early states, eager to build support that will in turn allow him to raise more money, and start an upward climb to the early voting.
New polls in two of those states show him breaking into double digits.
In Iowa, a Des Moines Register Poll released Sunday showed Richardson supported by 10 percent of those likely to attend next January's precinct caucuses.
He's still far behind Edwards, Obama and Clinton. But he's happy he's gaining—and apparently moving ahead of other second-tier candidates such as Sens. Joe Biden of Delaware and Chris Dodd of Connecticut.
The Iowa poll was taken after Richardson started airing a television commercial there, which could have boosted his prospects. Also, another poll taken at the same time showed Richardson supported by 7 percent.
In New Hampshire, he moved into double digits in a recent Zogby poll, supported by 10 percent, up sharply from 2 percent in April.
Not yet in the top tier. But knocking at the door.
Said independent pollster John Zogby: "He is now a player in all this."
For more on Richardson's campaign, go to www.richardsonforpresident.com
(Steven Thomma is chief political correspondent for the McClatchy Washington bureau. Write to him at: McClatchy Newspapers, 700 12th St. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20005-3994, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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