Bill Richardson: Not a Rock Star -- Yet

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET

I'm not a betting man but if I were, I'd put some money on Governor Bill Richardson to win, place or show in the 2008 presidential campaign.

The New Mexico Democrat with the golden resume got right to the point while speaking at a foreign policy forum at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington on March 28, when asked what he would do if elected president.

"On my first day in office, I'd end the war in Iraq," he responded. "On my second day, I'd announce a plan for achieving national energy independence."

Richardson, a late starter in the crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination, impressed many of his 150 or so listeners with his speech about the undeniable threat of nuclear terrorism ("In the 20th century, nuclear deterrence worked. In the 21st century, it won't.") and his obvious personal appeal.

He won me over, I'm ashamed to admit, when I asked him if he can raise the huge sums of money he'll need to compete with rivals like Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, who've already raised tens of millions of dollars, especially now that California and as many as 20 other states are likely to participate in what amounts to a national primary next Feb. 5.

I also reminded him that I attended his press conference in Santa Fe in December when he met with two top North Korean diplomats on their way to Beijing for multilateral talks on disarming North Korea's nuclear weapons program, just before he announced his presidential campaign in January, and I referred to a previous questioner who already had him in the Oval Office.

"I love this guy," Richardson said, "and I miss reading his newspaper, The Hill."

Anyway, he made it clear he will focus on four key states that hold caucuses or primaries before Feb. 5, including Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. A strong showing in those states would put him in position to compete in the Feb. 5 super-super collective primary, he indicated. He also expressed confidence he can raise sufficient campaign funds.

His determination to make a showing in the Iowa caucuses, the first real test for Democratic hopefuls, was underlined for me when a young man came up and introduced himself afterwards as the former press secretary for Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa who has just joined Richardson's campaign team.

I had invited a friend, a visiting German political scientist and author who once spent an American Political Science Association fellowship working for Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Rep. Lee Hamilton, to listen to Richardson. He was not familiar with him, but came away deeply impressed with both his speech on preventing a nuclear 9-11 and with his response to questions and his appealing personal style, which he compared to that of Bill Clinton.

The 59-year-old Richardson is certainly qualified to be president in terms of experience. He served 15 years in Congress before Clinton appointed him ambassador to the United Nations and then secretary of Energy, and was reelected last November to a second term as governor with 69 percent of the vote, the largest victory margin for any New Mexico governor.

Richardson didn't say so but he clearly hopes to capitalize on his Hispanic heritage, especially in states like California and Texas. But he'll have to move quickly since a poll released the same day of his speech by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed that 42 percent of registered Latino voters in Calfiornia said they would vote for Hillary Clinton, followed by 14 percent for Barack Obama, 12 percent for John Edwards and 8 percent for Richardson.

But there's also a possible flaw lurking. He may have a lot of Bill Clinton's personal charm but he may also have one of his personal flaws as well. The Politico, a new newspaper covering Congress just launched last month, reported on March 8 that Richards "has been burdened by unusually public discussion about his behavior with women."

The newspaper noted that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish told the Albuquerque Journal she avoids standing near Richardson because of his proclivity for "annoying" physical intimacies. She said Richardson "pinches my neck. He touches my hip, my thigh, sort of the side of my leg." The Politico added, "On repeated occasions, Richardson has been pressed by reporters or Democratic activists on whether his personal conduct can withstand public scrutiny."

Richardson denied behaving inappropriately with women, telling the Politico that his personal conduct was given the seal of approval when he was being considered as a running mate for Sen. John Kerry in 2004. Richardson called the speculation "mean-spirited" and claimed it has "no foundation" in truth.

Still, the newspaper noted, "Even so, many Democrats say gossip about Richardson's perosnal behavior is an important factor keeping an exceptionally well-credentialed politician ... from entering the top tier of 2008 candidates."

As Richardson told the SAIS audience, "I'm not a rock star," an obvious reference to Obama's meteoric emergence as one of the top Democratic contenders.

Well, not yet, anyway. But if he can disprove gossip that he may have a Monica problem, continue raising alarms about the terrible and very real threat of nuclear terrorism, covince voters that he'll get us out of a diisastrous war in Iraq, show us how to achieve energy independence, and inspire Americans to embrace diversity and build a more just society, he may well have a good chance of adding to his already illustrious resume.