Bill Richardson: The High-Risk, High-Reward Running Mate

Bill Richardson would make a perfect running mate, if he weren't so imperfect. Sure, you could make that statement about anyone, but, given the renewed ...
by | April 4, 2008

Billrichardson2_2 Bill Richardson would make a perfect running mate, if he weren't so imperfect.

Sure, you could make that statement about anyone, but, given the renewed buzz surrounding Richardson since his endorsement of Barack Obama, it's worth considering the New Mexico governor's many strengths and many weaknesses.

For a bunch of reasons, Richardson matches up well with Obama as a ticket mate (I'm guessing a Clinton-Richardson ticket is out of the question at this point).

Consider Obama's running mate dilemma. He could choose a Washington veteran, but what about that "change" message? He could choose an outsider, but doesn't he need someone with experience? Enter Richardson, the outsider with experience.

Richardson has his famous resume: Congress, the U.N. and the Department of Energy. But he's also spent the last 5+ years as a governor and governors, almost by definition, are outsiders.

If Obama is concerned that his problems with Hispanics will linger, Richardson may be the answer. Plus, New Mexico is a pure swing state (it went for Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004) and Richardson is popular enough back home to win it for Obama.

In sum, Richardson helps Obama promote broad campaign themes, court a key demographic group and carry a specific swing state. Who else could do all that?

But there are also lots of problems with Richardson as a running mate. Richardson's long resume means he has a long record to criticize. Remember the Wen Ho Lee scandal and those missing hard drives at Los Alamos?

He also could unsettle some Democrats. Richardson, who cut taxes as governor, declared during the campaign, "Democrats, whenever we have a solution, we want to tax." He also said that homosexuality is a choice. (UPDATE: An e-mailer points out that Richardson retracted this statement. He later said he had misunderstood the question.)

Perhaps more importantly, Richardson has earned the dreaded "gaffe-prone" label -- and not without reason. Let me give you just one example.

I was reporting on state water policy several months ago and one of the topics I covered was the Great Lakes Compact, a deal between U.S. states and Canadian provinces to prevent water from the lakes from being diverted outside the region.

The compact requires legislative approval, which had stalled in several states until it received new life from (among other things) a comment by Richardson. When discussing national water policy, he remarked, "States like Wisconsin are awash in water."

That statement stoked fears that dry states want to steal water from the Great Lakes. The Toledo Blade editorialized, "Hands off our water." The editor of the Capital Times (in Madison, Wisconsin) declared, "State must act now to protect Great Lakes." In the Detroit Free Press, it was "United we fight for our lakes."

My point is not that Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin have such a grudge against Richardson that they would reject an Obama-Richardson ticket because of him. Rather, the comment reflected a tone deafness that hampered his presidential bid and that would likely hamper a vice presidential candidacy too.

Individually, none of these drawbacks would disqualify Richardson from winning the vice presidential sweepstakes. But, when taken collectively, Obama would have to show quite a bit of audacity to pick Bill Richardson.

Previously in my vice presidential series: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com  | 

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