Richardson sharing glass half-full view on campaign trail

Early in the 1976 presidential campaign when I was working for the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark., members of the local chamber of commerce were going to drive 160 miles to Little Rock for a face-to-face meeting with one of the Democratic candidates.

I was invited to go and report on it.

I’ll never forget Editor Jack Moseley rejecting my travel request, scoffing: “That damn peanut farmer’s never going to go anywhere.” So I missed meeting the former governor of Georgia and next president, Jimmy Carter.

In 1991, as the Review-Journal’s political reporter, I interviewed Bill Clinton for nearly an hour early in the campaign when the governor of Arkansas was just one of the Seven Dwarfs, as the Democratic field had been dubbed. Soon afterward I reused the tape, thinking he didn’t have a prayer of going the distance. Another error in judgment, a piece of presidential memorabilia lost forever.

Yet another Democratic governor is chasing the presidency, and the tendency is still to scoff at his chances. But this time, despite what appears to be the no-way, no-how chances of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, I’m not writing him off.

Any Democrat running for president who feels it’s worth his time to pitch his candidacy to the Review-Journal’s decidedly libertarian editorial board, knowing full well how unlikely it is he will win its endorsement, is obviously a man of optimism.

Yet he’s also a realist. Richardson knows he’s shut out of any endorsement from the paper with the Democratic leanings, the Las Vegas Sun, because that endorsement will go to the editor’s pal, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. That’s a lock because of Editor Brian Greenspun’s personal friendship with former President Clinton.

Perhaps Richardson saw a glimmer of hope at the Review-Journal, which did endorse Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, despite disagreeing with him on nearly every position. (People keep reminding me that the Review-Journal also endorsed Gov. Jim Gibbons and District Judge Elizabeth Halverson and thus must accept some responsibility for swaying voters.)

As Richardson pitched his views on complex issues on April 30, his optimism was obvious. Finally, I asked a simple question: Are you an optimist or a realist?

“I consider myself an optimist. I believe these problems can be resolved. I think we’ve got to be more optimistic about this country. We’ve got to be patriotic. We’ve got to think we can resolve problems. Realists sometimes are whiners. They like to describe a problem,” Richardson said. “I like to look at the solutions.”

Just a few days before, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll showed Richardson was No. 5 in the Democratic field behind Hillary Clinton’s 36 percent, Barack Obama’s 31 percent, John Edwards’ 20 percent and Joe Biden’s 3 percent. With just 2 percent, Richardson was not surging with power.

The more recent Review-Journal poll of Nevada Democrats also showed him in fifth place behind Clinton’s 37 percent, Edwards’ 13 percent, Obama’s 12 percent and Al Gore’s 9 percent. Richardson pulled 6 percent in the state poll. (Hey, it’s triple what he did nationally.)

A strong showing in the Nevada caucus next January is imperative for Richardson. If a tax-cutting, Second Amendment-loving Hispanic Democrat can’t do well in a Western state such as Nevada, with its large Hispanic population, then his candidacy fizzles. “I’m second-tier now; I’m moving up,” is his standard joke these days.

Asked to cite examples of something he did that others said couldn’t be done, Richardson began with an example from his days as energy secretary under President Clinton. He said he proposed funds for nuclear weapons workers who became ill from workplace conditions. The idea was unpopular with Congress because it was expensive and involved admitting past mistakes, but the legislation passed in 2001 and covered more than 500,000 people.

“As secretary of energy, I got air-conditioning standards 30 percent more efficient, that was a direct thing I did,” Richardson said. “On renewable energy, I tried to push, with some margin of success. But on energy, both parties have not, in my judgment, developed a national energy policy.”

Richardson said his gambling consists of an occasional spin of the big wheel. That’s truly optimism.

Meanwhile, I’m going to hang on to the tape of the meeting. Just in case optimism prevails.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 383-0275.

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