Thursday, April 08, 2004

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: RICHARDSON'S AMBITIONS

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican


Gov. Bill Richardson on May 20 will give a commencement speech at a state university.

No, not this state. He'll be talking that night to the graduating class of the University of New Hampshire in Manchester.

New Hampshire? Why would a politician from New Mexico be interested in New Hampshire?

Certainly, it's not politics, Richardson's spokesmen insist.

"It's got absolutely nothing to do with the 2008 New Hampshire primary," Billy Sparks said Wednesday. "In fact, Governor Richardson has long advocated that a Western primary be given greater prominence."

Richardson has called for New Mexico and other Western states to band together for a regional presidential primary that would be held early in the election year.

For several decades, New Hampshire has held the first presidential primary of the election season.

Sparks also noted Richardson gave a commencement speech at Middlebury College in Vermont last year. And Vermont isn't one of those states where presidential hopefuls start poking around years in advance.

This will be Richardson's first trip to New Hampshire, Sparks said. Asked whether it will be his last, Sparks said, "I can't say that."

The university will pay for the trip, Sparks said.

Second banana blues: But, of course, it really is too early to be looking at the 2008 election when 2004 isn't even half finished.

However, the governor's assumed presidential ambitions have been noted by national pundits looking at the possibility of Sen. John Kerry choosing Richardson as the vice-presidential candidate this year.

(The usual disclaimer: Richardson has repeatedly said he would turn down any offer to be on the national ticket this year.)

A report on CNN's Paula Zahn Now noted Richardson's strengths are his appeal to Hispanic voters and his experience in foreign policy and energy issues. However, the report said some Democrats believe our governor might be perceived as being too interested in advancing his own political career.

Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said much the same thing in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In Sabato's most recent ranking of Democratic veep contenders -- in which our governor ranked third behind Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland -- Richardson ranked high in areas of experience and political strength. But he was docked points in the category of "compatibility" with Kerry.

This, Sabato said, was due to the fact that Richardson "is viewed as having his own presidential run in mind." Presidential candidates, Sabato said, prefer to have running mates with their ambitions on the back burner.

In Sabato's ranking system, Richardson lost more points in the category of possible "hidden problems."

Asked what this referred to, Sabato said he was mainly talking about the fact that Richardson's voting record as a congressman and his years as United Nations ambassador and Energy secretary haven't received much national scrutiny -- at least not the kind that candidates on national tickets get. Security problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory and rising gasoline prices in 2000 kept Richardson off the national ticket that year.

But that assessment probably doesn't sting as much as Sunday's New York Times article by Adam Nagourney, which listed Richardson as one of four possible running mates interviewed by the Kerry campaign.

While Richardson's experience and the fact he could help carry New Mexico -- a "must-win" state -- were big plusses, Nagourney said, "Mr. Richardson has not run for national office before, and Democrats said it was not clear that he has the political skills to survive what could be a highly complicated campaign."

The Snerdley factor: But Richardson can take solace in the fact that he's the favorite of "Mr. Snerdley," the screener for right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh's Web site has a transcript of a discussion about Kerry's possible running mates.

Quoth Limbaugh: "Now, is there a name, Mr. Snerdley? I've mentioned that you disagree with me. You think might, might add to the electability chances of John Kerry? ... Hm-hm. Hm-hm. Bill Richardson. OK, all right, Mr. Snerdley thinks that Bill Richardson might add aura, prestige and give an increased chance of electability to John Kerry. All right, fine."

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