by Mark Silva
Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and erstwhile candidate for president, endorsed Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois today in his quest for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
But Richardson had come close to endorsing Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York earlier this year, he allowed tonight. Richardson, who served as Energy secretary in Bill Clinton’s administration, had a visitor in Santa Fe not long ago. Bill Clinton came to watch the Super Bowl with him.
“Yes, I was’’ close to endorsing the former first lady, Richardson told Keith Olbermann on MSNBC’s Countdown this evening. “I almost did.’’
Richardson, who allowed that Obama has “kind of had a bad week,’’ said he hoped his endorsement will help – despite criticism from the Clinton camp that the time when Richardson, the nation’s only Hispanic governor, might have really helped, before the Texas primary, had come and gone. And Richardson, one of the Democratic Party’s super-delegates – the “fat cats,’’ as he calls them -- said that the super-delegates should not be deciding the nomination. The party’s voters should be, he said, and "the time has come'' to rally around the candidate with the most support.
“The president came to see me in Santa Fe,’’ Richardson told MSNBC's Olbermann in an interview aired this evening. “We watched the Super Bowl together. I was about to do it. He's very persuasive. And I have enormously strong ties to them, they were good to me, I was good to them.
“I waited, because I was legitimately very torn,’’ Richardson told Olbermann. “You mentioned my ties to the Clintons, my loyalties to President Clinton, my support and respect for Senator Clinton. But, I just realized that if I was going to make a difference, at a time we need party unity, at a time when the campaign was really getting nasty and personal, at a time when Sen. Obama responded, I believe,in such a courageous way to a problem in his campaign -- those remarks by his own pastor -- I felt that I needed to step in and say that I am backing Sen. Obama because I think this man has got omething very good about him, something very special.
Richardson, who joined Obama at a rally in Portland, Oregon, today, was interviewed back home in Santa Fe. “I can't put my precise point on it, except to say that, you know, Keith, I was in that auditorium in Portland. I looked at the faces of all those people and all I saw was hope and enthusiasm, but mainly, hope. And I think that just reinforced by decision.’’
Richardson was asked about Mark Penn, senior adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, saying that the time has passed since Richardson’s endorsement might have an impact in the ongoing campaign.
“Well I regret it,’’ Richardson said. “It's typical of many of the people in that campaign. What he basically was saying -- the stereotype was that I could have endorsed before Texas, because I'm Hispanic, and that's when I would have made a difference…. Now that Texas is over, my endorsement doesn't make a difference. That's his view… maybe the campaign view. I still have enormous respect for Sen. Clinton.
“I think she's fought a great race, President Clinton, too. But I think you have to get in the arena. And I felt that the time has come for us to stop this bickering, like Mark Penn making statements like that, and basically come together as a party and talk positive about this countryat the issues instead of the all of this sniping that seems to take place almost everyday.’’
Richardson, in acknowledging that he had been close to endorsing Hillary Clinton, said, “But then I waited and I said, 'I'm going to just -- there's something that says to me, I must wait.' And then Texas happened and then the negativity took place. And then Obama gave his speech -- although I had kind of decided, almost a week ago, to make the endorsement.
“And now, I feel that it was the right time. You've got to step up in the arena. I think it helped Sen. Obama, even though I personally haven't felt that these endorsements of one politician to another help much. But he's kind of had a bad week. And this has certainly boosted his staff -- I saw it, his supporters.
“So maybe my endorsement has a little bit of significance,’’ Richardson said, “But obviously, Mark Penn doesn't think so. But we'll see.’’
It’s time for the party to rally around the winning candidate, he suggested.
“We've got John McCain running around the world, boosting his foreign policy credentials, raising funds, building support; and we're bickering. And we're a Democratic Party that has been on the resurgence. And the American people are on our side on the issues. But when it appears that we're downgrading each other, attacking each other, not talking positive, cat fighting, nastiness, then I think the time has come for individuals, like myself, that have been in the arena, that maybe have run for president, to say, all right, the time has come to stop this.
“The time has come to come together as a party,’’ he said. “The time has come to get a nominee before the convention. The time has come -- also I just think these super-delegates should not be the arbiters and the deciders of this race -- 800 of them. A lot of them are good people, but they're fat cats, they’re governors, like me, they're senators; they're congressman.
“Why should we decide?’’ super-delegate Richardson asked. “Let the voters in proportion to the vote in various states make that decision.’’