Sunday, July 6, 2008

VP Profile: Bill Richardson

Age: 61
Current Position: Governor of New Mexico
Former Positions of Importance:
  • Congressman from New Mexico, 1983-1997
  • Ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-1998
  • Secretary of Energy, 1998-2001
If you put a gun to my head and demanded I guess who Obama would tab as his vice president...well, you'd be a very bizarre criminal with an incomprehensible motive. But after I soiled myself, I would probably guess Richardson.

Pros: Richardson represents a nice middle ground between Obama's relative inexperience and the kind of stultified Washington insider against which the campaign has been crusading. Ol' Resume Richardson first came to Washington in 1983 as a representative from New Mexico's 3rd district. Before he left in 2001, he occupied a variety of positions that gave him a wide range of foreign and domestic policy experience. With energy policy a crucial issue in the campaign, his tenure at the Department of Energy is of particular importance.

But Richardson is a "young" 61, and he doesn't project the image of a crusty politico. As a VP candidate, he could help assuage fears over Obama's inexperience without coming off as a betrayal of the presidential candidate's message of change.

Politically, Richardson could exert influence in a state that, if recent history is any indication, could be quite close. Al Gore won New Mexico in 2000 by roughly 300 votes, while President Bush pulled the state in 2004 by less than 6,000 votes. He also hails from a Mountain West region that the Obama campaign feels could be swayed into the Democratic camp. (Not Utah so much as Colorado, to be sure)

Hispanic voters went in large numbers for Hillary Clinton during the primaries, and might well look on John McCain as an acceptable Republican option. Richardson, who has an extensive Hispanic heritage and grew up in Mexico City, could help there.

Cons: Despite all that experience, Richardson never caught on with Democratic voters. You can blame part of that on bad timing; in hindsight, it's hard to imagine any candidate being able to overcome the Clinton machine AND the Obama movement. Still, Richardson won't energize or inspire any voters.

I wonder if Richardson will actually convince anyone afraid of Obama's thin resume to vote for the man. And it would remain a complicated dance for Obama, who'd have to point to Richardson's experience without giving the impression that he'd be the one making decisions in the event of a 3:00 am foreign crisis.

And while Richardson likes to talk about his time at the Department of Energy, it was hardly a brilliant tenure. Certainly there were no dramatic breakthroughs in the field of alternative energy, though it's hard to expect such things during any given three-year span. But the department was racked with scandals when he was secretary. With McCain desperate to make this election about national security, Republicans will be thrilled to connect the word "espionage" with the Obama campaign.

The political advantages to a Richardson candidacy are debatable. I still question to what extent voters are swayed by a vice presidential nominee, and I certainly question whether voters in a given region will choose a president because the number two guy happens to be from their general area. And even if we granted the premise that Richardson could help deliver New Mexico, that's only five electoral votes. Not nothing in a potentially close election, but hardly a total that cries out "Pick me!"

VERDICT: I still think Richardson remains the odds-on favorite. He's a known quantity and doesn't excite the imagination; as such, there's always the potential a more exciting prospect could rocket up the lists. But Obama's got the charisma thing covered; there's no need for another jolt of hope on the ticket. The campaign could get good use out of Richardson by sending him to Hispanic voters in New Mexico and Colorado.

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