Thursday, February 28, 2008

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: A RETIRED NATIONAL POLITICIAN

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
February 28, 2008


Gov. Bill Richardson remained coy Wednesday when asked at a news conference whether he’ll endorse a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Endorsements by politicians don’t make any difference, never have,” he told members of the Roundhouse press corps. “I may wake up and decide to endorse. I’m a retired national politician now. I’m the governor of New Mexico. I love my job.”

That “retired national politician” line refers to his dropping out of contention for the presidential nomination in January after humiliating showings in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

He then added he’ll probably decide by the end of the week whether he’ll make an endorsement, and if so, whom.

Asked when he had last been called by Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, Richardson replied, “Today. We talked today.”

So apparently some people think endorsements by other politicians are important. Of course, Clinton and Obama also might be courting Richardson’s support as a superdelegate to the Democratic national convention.

I agree with Richardson’s statement about endorsements by politicians not making much difference among voters. But Richardson has dragged this endorsement deal out for a long time. And the longer Richardson waits to endorse, the more that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Next Tuesday could be the day of reckoning for the candidates with the Texas and Ohio primaries. Many people, including former President Clinton, have said it will be a do-or-die day for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign. If she loses those primaries to Obama, it would be hard for her to hobble on.

On one hand, Richardson probably wishes this endorsement talk would go away. Richardson owes a big chunk of his much-touted résumé to Bill Clinton.

As a longtime New Mexico Democratic politician told me recently, “If Richardson endorses Obama, that would make him one of the most ungrateful SOBs in the world.” But he might be reluctant to endorse Sen. Clinton as long as the momentum seems to be going in Obama’s direction.

Fascination: On the other hand, Richardson must be loving all the attention.

On Wednesday he told the local media, “I don’t know why you’re so fascinated with this,” referring to the endorsement question.

Tuesday night, the retired national politician talked to a fascinated Wolf Blitzer on CNN about a possible endorsement and why he hasn’t made one yet. “I’m just not trying to be cute,” he said. “I just have felt that an endorsement by me, I don’t think it is that significant. But I still might do it.”

On Wednesday, columnist Al Kamen of The Washington Post wrote, “New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., may have dropped out of the race, but old habits die hard. So when he was spotted this week having coffee at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, he quickly accepted an invitation ... to wander over to a table of foreign affairs reporters who were interviewing a top European diplomat.

Kamen said an “impromptu mini-press conference” commenced when Richardson arrived at the table. Richardson “said he had not decided between Obama and Clinton, but ‘I might soon.’ ”

Richardson, Kamen said, “declined to say whether his endorsement would come before Tuesday, or later, when it would be meaningless. ‘I’m a Renaissance man now. I don’t have to answer this anymore.’ ”

Let me be your Teddy bear: Richardson also was featured this weekend in a rather gushing story in The New York Times by reporter Mark Liebovich, who called the governor a “generally beloved teddy bear among party insiders, if not by the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire. ”

The writer might have added “or by members of the New Mexico state Senate.”

Richardson laughed but refused to answer a question by a reporter (not me) wanting to know if he considered himself a beloved teddy bear.

The Richardson quote that fascinated me the most in the Times story was the obligatory vice president question. “Yes, he admits thinking about being someone’s running mate, or maybe secretary of state,” Liebovich wrote. “I can’t preclude it,” the 60-year-old governor said. “But I’m not pining for it, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ve had a great life. I’m at peace with myself.”

I’ve had a great life? That has a weird ring of finality.

Freudian slip: On Wednesday, when answering a question about what kind of health care bill he’d support in a special session of the state Legislature, Richardson said he wants the bill he outlined in his “State of the Union Address.”

The “State of the Union,” of course, is the president’s annual address to a joint session of Congress. Out here in New Mexico, the governor gives the Legislature a “State of the State Address.”

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