When New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, he may have finally restored sanity to the Democratic presidential race. After almost a month of negative campaigning most often initiated by the Hillary Clinton camp, Richardson’s endorsement was a direct reaction to the kind of politics that threatens to hurt his party’s chances in the November election.
Clearly, for Richardson to endorse Obama indicates that something is very wrong on the campaign trail. His career was practically made by President Bill Clinton, who appointed him U.N. ambassador and eventually made him part of his cabinet as secretary of energy. When Richardson dropped his own presidential bid in January, he was even mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate on Sen. Hillary Clinton’s ticket.
But after weeks of deliberating, as well as heavy lobbying from the Clintons, Richardson chose Obama, saying he would be “a great and historic president who can bring us the change America desperately needs.”
Richardson’s endorsement came towards the end of a week during which Obama had been fending off a firestorm involving his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, whose controversial views were circulated heavily around the media. In response to criticism of his connection to Wright, Obama made an extremely well-crafted speech on March 18 that opened up new ground in America’s race debate.
Richardson said the speech cemented his decision to support Obama, commenting that as a Hispanic, he was touched by it. His endorsement may have the effect of increasing Obama’s appeal among Latinos, who so far have been strongly on Clinton’s side.
Since then, negative politics has re-emerged as a campaign strategy favored by the Clintons. Bill Clinton made comments that many interpreted as questioning Obama’s patriotism, spurring one of Obama’s supporters, Retired Gen. Merrill "Tony" McPeak to accuse the former president of using “McCarthyism.” On a Sunday talk show, Clinton adviser James Carville compared Richardson to the ultimate traitor, Judas.
In an attempt to deflect attention from dubious comments she made about facing danger during a trip to Bosnia, Hillary Clinton renewed attacks on Obama over his involvement with Wright during a visit to a Pittsburgh newspaper’s editorial board.
Such tactics by the Clinton team show how important Richardson’s decision to support Obama was, not only for the upcoming primaries in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, but also in its ability to influence the all-important superdelegate vote. Since it is almost impossible for Clinton to overtake Obama’s lead in the delegate count and popular vote, the superdelegates are her last chance.
While claiming to still be loyal to the Clintons, Richardson said what many observers, but few superdelegates, have dared to say. Some of the people around the Clintons, he said, practice gutter politics, and feel they are entitled to the presidency.
When Richardson calls for Democrats to “stop the bloodletting,” he is speaking like someone who understands the critical juncture of history we are all facing, not like someone who will do anything to be vice president. He should be commended for that.
Ed Morales is a contributor to the New York Times and Newsday and is the author of “Living in Spanglish.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.