Will Bill Richardson Return to Run for Governor?

by Jack Moczinski

January 20 - January 26, 2000

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You get the sense that Bill Richardson is being coy with New Mexico. Reporters want to know what he's running for and when. Will he return to New Mexico? Will he accept the vice presidency if it is offered to him? Will he run for governor? Richardson hasn't really answered any of their questions, at least not directly. Instead he seems to want to keep the people and the reporters guessing.

One thing seems for sure: Richardson enjoys the fact that people are asking what he wants to do. I think he likes the whispering and the wondering about his political future. In the past Richardson relished the role as a special negotiator for President Clinton and enjoyed the thrill of flying into some country on a rescue mission. I'm sure he looks back to New Mexico, a suffering state, and figures he can fly in and rescue us, too.

Political common sense dictates that returning to New Mexico for the governor's race in 2002 is a logical idea for Big Bill. As Gov. Gary Johnson enters his second term, it seems that his overwhelming popularity is waning as he accomplishes less and opens his mouth more. After eight years of Johnson, Richardson must guess that voters would be looking for a wiser, more experienced alternative.

There's no question that Richardson's wide variety of experience outmatches that of any possible opponent in the state. Not only has he served in Congress for 12 years, but he's been secretary of the U.N. and secretary of the Energy Department. During that time in Washington, he's likely built up the support of big-wigs and many influential people who could donate to a Richardson gubernatorial campaign.

Richardson has a gung-ho style and would be an aggressive governor. And Republicans and Democrats alike know that having Richardson return for a statewide race is like having a 1,000-pound gorilla in your living room.

Simply said, he can't be ignored.

The battle to succeed Johnson is likely to be one of the best ever. Democrats are chomping at the bit for the office. The Republican Party owes a lot to Johnson for developing its prominence in the state, and he launched the careers of many young Republicans (Heather Wilson, Darren White, Rob Perry and Pete Rahn) through cabinet appointments. The Republicans would like to continue their lock on the governor's office and win a Republican majority in the state legislature.

There's a long list of Democrats interested in the race: Attorney General Patricia Madrid, Land Commissioner Ray Powell, Jr., Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, Former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and former state Rep. Gary King, to name a few. Republicans mentioned are Albuquerque businessman Sherman McCorkle, Albuquerque banker Larry Willard, state Sen. Skip Vernon and others.

All these current and future politicians are waiting for the word on Richardson. The 2002 governor's race can shape up in one of two ways. If Richardson runs, every Democrat will stay out of the race. They can't match Richardson's money and could never beat him in a primary where Richardson's old congressional district casts almost half the votes. Republicans will fight to challenge Richardson, but they don't have a dominant candidate who could give Richardson a real legitimate challenge.

If Richardson doesn't run, the governor's race will be thrown into a free-for-all. There would be a crowded Democratic field with a lot of light-weight candidates. The Republican primary wouldn't be much better. The candidate who emerges from these crowded primaries will win with less than 35 percent of the primary vote, making them not exactly the overwhelming choice of either party. Remember, it was a crowded Republican primary of nobodies that produced Gary Johnson in 1994.

If Richardson ran for governor and won, he will no doubt be thinking of using his experience as governor as a stepping stone to the presidency. As silly as that may sound at this point, it's not out of the question. Governors from small states who show an aptitude for executive office and were able to bring their state around have found themselves in the presidency in recent years. Just look at Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

John F. Kennedy came out of nowhere in 1956 to almost capture the vice presidential nomination on his party's ticket. The notoriety made him a more logical choice for president in 1960. The same could happen to Richardson this year. If he plays a prominent role in the upcoming convention and is in the running for vice president, he could use the momentum to return to New Mexico to run for governor and eventually the presidency in 2008. Stay tuned.

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