Bill Richardson touts Obama

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson still has fans in Nevada.

The former Democratic presidential candidate was in North Las Vegas on Saturday, holding a town hall at the College of Southern Nevada’s campus on East Cheyenne Avenue. Richardson, who is of Mexican descent, emphasized the importance of the Hispanic vote in Nevada and other Western states as he campaigned for Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

A boxing aficionado, Richardson said he was also in town for Saturday night’s title fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Joel Casamayor.

Richardson endorsed Obama in March, prompting outrage from those close to New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. Richardson had served in President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet as energy secretary.

“In the presidential race, I got more attention when I endorsed Barack Obama than when I announced my candidacy,” Richardson joked to his audience Saturday of perhaps three dozen people.

Richardson urged the prominent Hispanics in attendance to reach out to their communities in support of Obama, whom he described as a man of the people. “We Latinos care about family, church and neighbors,” Richardson said. “We’re very tightly knit.”

Richardson got applause from the group when he discussed the candidates’ differences on the immigration issue. Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, he said, once had a good position, co-sponsoring comprehensive immigration reform with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. But now, McCain has taken a harder line and advocates clamping down on the border before taking any action on the millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States.

Republicans, he said, “want to delay legalization to the point where it’ll probably never happen.”

“You can’t do it,” he said. Obama, he said, favors bolstering security concurrently with “fair legalization” for some illegal immigrants.

McCain is airing ads in Spanish in Nevada and other states claiming that Obama can’t be trusted on immigration because of amendments to the reform legislation he supported that McCain claims were designed to kill the bill’s chances.

In a statement issued by Democrats Saturday, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez said McCain “has lost his credibility when it comes to the immigration issue.” McCain, Menendez charged, is pandering to the Republican Party’s anti-immigration right wing in English at the same time as he broadcasts immigrant-friendly messages in Spanish.

Richardson also touted Obama’s plans for the economy and his central message of turning the page on the Bush administration.

“Now Senator McCain is saying he’s the candidate of change,” he said of the Republican nominee. “Last I checked, Republicans were running the White House. He must have forgotten that.”

More important than any particular issue or policy, Richardson said, is a president who can bring Americans together and lead with vision. Democrats have fielded “great candidates” in many previous elections, he said, “but I think there’s something special about this guy. This war in Iraq, he saw it years ago. He said, ‘It’s not going to work.’ He was right. … He can do it because he’s a leader. He has that special gift.”

When Richardson opened the floor for questions, many in the group said they hoped he’d be Obama’s pick for secretary of state. Richardson didn’t exactly discourage the notion.

Richardson also took on queries about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, who was campaigning at the other end of the state Saturday, holding a rally in Carson City.

“I know her, not that well, but we’re both governors,” Richardson said. “I think she’s smart, she’s telegenic, she’s a governor and that’s important, I’ve always thought executive experience is important. But on the crucial test of national security, she fails the test.”

Palin, he said, “made a lot of mistakes” in her round of television interviews with ABC’s Charles Gibson and seemed “cavalier” about the possibility of war with Russia over its actions in neighboring Georgia.

“On that crucial test, she is not ready to be vice president,” he said. “I am delighted there’s a woman running. … She deserves scrutiny for all her positions, just like (Democratic vice presidential nominee) Joe Biden does, just like McCain does.”

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