Contrary to reports, Richardson may stay in race

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Bill Richardson

Rick Scibelli Jr. for The New York Times

Despite fourth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will remain in the presidential race — at least for now, a campaign adviser told The New York Times Student Journalism Institute on Wednesday night.

Based on information provided by two campaign insiders, The Associated Press reported that Richardson was planning to drop his presidential bid today. According to The AP, Richardson had returned to New Mexico to meet with his senior advising staff about whether to leave the race.

Campaign staffers say, however, that Richardson returned to New Mexico to begin the legislative session. According to an e-mail sent to campaign staff members obtained by The Times Student Journalism Institute, the previous reports of Richardson’s exit were false.

Richardson had said earlier that he planned to remain in the race until the Super Tuesday primary on Feb. 5, when 24 states, including most western ones, will hold their primaries.

It was also reported in The New Mexican, of Santa Fe, N.M., that Richardson could be planning to stay through Super Tuesday, when New Mexico’s primary takes place.

As a Hispanic and a westerner, Richardson is expected to perform well in the western primaries, which are in the coming month. “He had a built-in constituency in those states,” said David Alire Garcia, a staff writer for The Santa Fe Record and host of the public television series “New Mexico in Focus.”

Sisto Abeyta, a New Mexico-based consultant for Richardson, said the change in the election schedule, pushing primaries up by months, had hurt Richardson’s chances. “It’s been made more about popularity than who can serve,” he said, adding that it has made the campaign difficult for Richardson, who has said he’s no rock-star candidate.

Richardson, 60, formally announced his candidacy on May 21 in a video posted on his Web site. “I am running for president,” he said, “because 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’s chances were uncertain from the start, Garcia said. In the age of television, where candidates have to look good in front of a camera, he said, Richardson was a throwback to another era.

As the first Hispanic to run for president, Garcia said, Richardson didn’t appear to be a disenfranchised minority to voters. “I think it was such a beautiful irony that you have the first Hispanic candidate and he’s also the most experienced candidate on paper,” he said.

Richardson, who has been governor of New Mexico since 2002, is the only Hispanic governor currently serving in the United States.

Throughout his campaign, Richardson has both flaunted his extensive political resume and joked at how, even with his experience, he hasn’t claimed a space in the top tier. One of his advertisements, which many have labeled one of the funniest campaign ads of this election cycle, shows Richardson in a mock job interview with a disinterested corporate interviewer reading off his long resume. The interviewer smugly asks him, “What makes you think you can be president?”

Richardson began his political career as a member of the House of Representatives from New Mexico, where he served for 14 years. In 1997, President Bill Clinton selected Richardson to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he served in that role until he became the secretary of energy in 1998.

A noted negotiator, Richardson represented the United States in negotiations for the release of American hostages in Cuba, Iraq and North Korea. In 2006, he met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to negotiate the release of the imprisoned National Geographic journalist Paul Salopek.

He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.

If and when he leaves the race, he is likely to be considered as a running mate for the Democratic presidential nominee, whoever that may be, analysts said.

“I would think he has an excellent chance,” Garcia said. Richardson made the short list of running mate for both Al Gore in 2000 and for John Kerry in 2004.

Political observers will be waiting to see whether Richardson endorses Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama. Garcia said he imagined Richardson was torn between his loyalty to the Clinton family and knowing that Obama had a chance of winning the election.

Abeyta says that if Richardson leaves the race, don’t expect to see an endorsement immediately, because he will probably wait until after the Nevada primary to make his choice.

Though he may be leaving the race after only two states, Garcia said, the Richardson campaign was a milestone. “He was very much a bicultural, bilingual, binational candidate,” he said. “I hope it will pave the way for future Latino candidates.”

— Rick Rojas

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