UPDATE, MAR. 21: Barack Obama has snagged Bill Richardson's endorsement, despite Clinton's best efforts. (More here.) This should help Obama fend off Clinton's ongoing effort to persuade Superdelegates to back her even if voters don't. Since the Texas and New Mexico primaries are done, and the only heavily Latino state left is Puerto Rico on June 7, Obama no longer stands to gain as much electorally as he would have earlier by breaking with tradition and floating the idea of Richardson as his running mate -- but I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop. As the post below explains, Obama-Richardson still makes a great ticket.
UPDATE, FEB. 12: Though he couldn't know he would be out of the race by the time it was published, Richardson both burnishes his foreign policy credentials, and demonstrates why he'd be tremendous either as a veep or as Secretary of State, in this article in the current edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. And the position he stakes out -- that U.S. foreign policy should be grounded in our nation's ideals -- sounds more Obama-ish than Clintonian.
ORIGINAL POST: When John Edwards was still in the race and positioning himself to be a power broker at the national convention, I boosted the idea of an Obama-Edwards ticket as a way of tilting the primary conclusively away from Hillary Clinton before Super Tuesday. Now that Edwards has bowed out and seems to be lowballing his power by angling for an Attorney General post, and it's too late for eleventh-hour Super Tuesday surprises, it’s time to rethink.
NPR just made a correction on-air, withdrawing their statement that former Democratic Presidential candidate and New Mexico governor Bill Richardson had endorsed Hillary Clinton. Actually, they said, while Richardson did watch the Super Bowl with Bill Clinton, he has not chosen who to endorse. Then, intriguingly, they reported that he said he has been having many telephone conversations with both the Clinton and Barack Obama camps.
Hmmmm. Watch the Super Bowl with one candidate’s proxy, take lots of calls from both sides, play coy about who you actually support. Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a courtship? Kind of like the college scouts flocking around Smash Williams on Friday Night Lights? And not just a courtship for an endorsement; they wouldn’t pull a big gun like Bill off the campaign trail simply to gain an ex-candidate's endorsement. No: it sounds like both sides may be courting Richardson as a running mate. Same principle as my Obama-Edwards proposition, but with Richardson instead.
So I did some homework, and it seems that Vice President Richardson isn't out of the question. Over a year ago, Leo Brown at WesternDemocrat proposed an Obama-Richardson ticket as an alternative to his first choice, Richardson-Obama. Once Richardson dropped out, Brown renewed the idea of Obama-Richardson, pointing out that Hillary's negatives are strong in Western (as in cowboys-and-Indians western, not Los Angeles western) states. (That fact makes Richardson a good choice for either candidate: he could help Hillary negate her negatives in an increasingly influential part of the country, or he could help Obama widen Hillary's gap in that region; ergo Bill's Super Bowl appearance in New Mexico.) But Obama may have the edge. For one thing, most of Richardson’s inner circle of political advisors have endorsed Obama. Yesterday -- the same day Bill and Bill were dipping chips in the same guacamole while watching the game -- one Richardson advisor even let slip an admission that an official Richardson endorsement of Obama may already have been cut.
For another, Richardson and Obama may already have engaged in politically sophisticated delegate-trading in the Iowa caucuses to maximize both candidates' performances against frontrunner Hillary; Richardson denies that, but if it's true it suggests that Obama's a more sophisticated, savvy and tough pol than his detractors claim -- a true Chicago pol and an heir to JFK (who wasn't above machination, which is different than triangulation). I want a candidate who can win, and a President who can get his policy initiatives through Congress -- and Obama may be that guy after all. And Obama has shown kindness (!) to Richardson during a debate, when Richardson was still in the race:
"I had just been asked a question -- I don't remember which one -- and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn't going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, 'So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?' But I wasn't paying any attention! ... I wasn't about to say I wasn't listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, 'Katrina. Katrina.' The question was on Katrina! So I said, 'On Katrina, my policy . . .' Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, 'Obama, that was good of you to do that.'"
A deal with Richardson -- especially one making Richardson veep, though slotting him as Secretary of State or Interior also might work -- would make sense, especially for Obama. For one thing, Obama is doing surprisingly poorly among Latino voters. Getting a better grip on the Latino vote would help him significantly, especially in California and other Western and Southwestern states that are becoming increasingly important – the Ohios and Pennsylvanias of the future -- as well as in Florida and New York (currently Clinton territory). (And, while I wish this weren’t an issue, Richardson could do so without making the ticket look too "minority": he’s only half Latino, has an Anglo name, and played amateur baseball in the Cape Cod league -- a big deal among those who know baseball -- and at Tufts University in Massachusetts.)
In addition, Richardson has strong foreign policy credentials, which both Obama and Clinton, (though she pretends otherwise) lack: he holds a Master’s Degree in International Affairs, is the former Ambassador to the United Nations and has successfully negotiated for the release of American servicemen and political prisoners in Cuba and North Korea. He even negotiated personally with Saddam Hussein in 1996 to obtain the release of American hostages help by Iraq. These last credentials both steal some of McCain’s “prisoner of war” luster – who’s the bigger hero, an American who was captured by an enemy, or a man who successfully negotiates such prisoners’ release?– and lends credibility to Obama’s much-attacked statement that he would negotiate with unsavory world leaders if doing so would be in America’s best interests.
He’s also an experienced politician and statesman, having been a Representative, the Secretary of Energy (for Bill Clinton), chair of the National Governors’ Association, and chair of the 2004 Democratic National Convention (where Obama first rose to national prominence with a stunningly inspirational speech), as well as current governor of New Mexico. A running mate with that background could help neutralize the “inexperienced” label Obama’s been saddled with. Toss in some experience with energy companies, a partnership with Richard Branson to create a spaceport in New Mexico, and other business credentials, and the fact that he's married to a woman he met in high school, and he could be a real asset -- to Obama or to Clinton.
So while I’m not ready to make a prediction, I am keeping my eyes open for indications that Richardson, not Edwards, may wind up being on either Clinton’s or Obama’s ticket. At a minimum, look for trial balloons.
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