He easily passes the first test. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson would be a very effective president if something happened to Obama. Before bitterness, James Carville called him, "the most qualified person ever to run for president". Larry Sabato, Professor of Political Science, said that Republicans told him privately, "if Richardson gets the nomination, it is all over for us".
Richardson Drives New Voter Registration and Turnout. The '08 election will be about change (from different people, to the way we conduct our political system, to policies, to transcending politics), for which voter turnout and new voter registration are the keys.
History tells us that few people vote for a ticket because of the vice-presidential candidate. All of the others mentioned -- Biden, Bloomberg, Brown, Clark, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Hagel, Nunn, Rendell, Sibelius, Strickland, Webb -- would be excellent candidates and VPS, but, if history is correct, would not change the outcome significantly.
That is not true, however, if that VP candidate uniquely drives new voter registration and turnout. Richardson could change the electoral map -- now, and for two generations.
There are 3 under-registered, under-voting groups for whom an identity politics can trigger massive increases in participation: youth, Afro-Americans and Latinos. It is true that the poor and lower middle-class constitute a fourth group, but they have been relatively difficult to reach and congeal to increase their electoral participation in part because they have a variety of different interests, and thus, since Robert Kennedy, have not had a single iconic figure around which to rally.
Barack Obama's persona and message have galvanized the first two, and legions are going out to increase their participation this fall.
The third group is Latinos.
Governor Richardson has been nominated 5 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, is loved by labor, is highly experienced in foreign policy having negotiated successfully with the worst regimes, has been an extremely successful Governor of a red-state growing jobs/improving education/raising teachers' salaries/raising wages and re-elected with 68% of the vote, is a former Energy Secretary -- one of the critical issues for at least 2 decades to come -- is pro-2nd Amendment, hails from the West... and, he also happens to be Latino.
Richardson fits beautifully Barack's theme of change, and unity. The latter is part of his DNA. During the debates he kept urging his competitors to remain positive.
The "Debate" Issue is Format-Dependent. Before sketching the electoral map with Richardson on the ticket, let us address the big negative that is appended to any discussion of his merits: he showed in the primaries that he not a great debater and thus might not do well against his McCain counterpart.
Granted, Richardson did not do so well in the 8-person, 60-second format, chosen by the networks and sponsors. He improved as the debates continued, but he retained his tendency to ramble. And, yes, like everyone, he made the occasional gaffe.
But, and here is the key point, the vice-presidential debate format will be agreed by the two candidates. Hence, Richardson can bargain for a format better suited to his style.
I was recently at a luncheon headlined by Governor Richardson supporting the re-election of another Western Democratic Governor, Christine Gregoire of Washington. He spoke without notes. As he got to the end of his speech the audience spontaneously rose, began cheering and yelling, and the crescendo kept rising forcing Richardson to shout into the microphone in order for his last sentences to be heard. This in the laid-back Northwest!
If anyone attended a Richardson event on the campaign trail, where he did Q&A after a 15' speech, he would note that Richardson was in total command-and-control. Almost everyone walked out shaking their heads up-and-down, that this was a person they liked, and trusted.
Thus, the big "he-won't-score-well-in-the-VP-debate" dig against Richardson can be handled by insisting on a free-wheeling format, not dissimilar to what McCain has already suggested for himself and Obama.
In that format Richardson shines. And, let's face it, one does not win nearly 70% of the vote in a red state without being adept at handling contentious settings, as he has done for years on TV with the likes of Lou Dobbs and FoxNews.
Unique Merits. Bill Richardson is a unique figure in American politics. He is a successful Governor who has delivered on matters such as improved education, job growth, better healthcare and the environment. At the same time he has been nominated 5 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and has been a successful international crisis negotiator.
When North Korea wanted to start talks about their nuclear program with the United States, whom did they call? Governor Bill Richardson.
Getting those talks started was classic Richardson. They called him ostensibly to retrieve the remains of a US soldier killed during the Korean War. The Governor of New Mexico went to North Korea and participated gratefully, non-arrogantly in the ceremony, and used it as an occasion to get the talks cranked up.
North Korea is one of the most dangerous regimes in the world. But, they trust Richardson. A Richardson vice-presidency might enable them to trust the US enough to resolve their nuclear issues, and thus make the world a much safer place.
He could have touted this in his primary campaign for President. Negotiations are sensitive matters, and he knew that injecting this directly into the campaign could make a successful outcome more difficult. So, for the good of the country and the world, he said little about it.....again, classic Richardson. That's true patriotism.
A successful Governor of a red state. A seasoned, experienced and trusted diplomat. A former Energy Secretary in a period where energy independence and clean fuels will be a key issue. A man who, on his own initiative, reversed a half-century of denial by both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and got billions of dollars of compensation for radiation workers who had been injured working on our national defense.
Richardson Changes the Electoral Map. Let us turn again, then, to the electoral map. Even without increased registrations, Richardson's presence on the ticket, as a highly successful Western, Latino Governor, would turn Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico blue and put Florida back in play.
With the passion that his presence on the ticket would engender, major increases in voter registrations and voter participation in other states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey would make those states safer wins, and new registrants could put Florida over the top. Moreover, the selection of a pro-2nd Amendment Governor on the ticket would soften Barack's "clinging" gaffe in the Midwest, while appealing as it always has to the West.
Even previously rock-ribbed conservative states such as Texas, with large populations of potential unregistered Latino voters, could become competitive. The race between Senator Cornyn (R-TX) and his Democratic challenger even today is close to a dead heat. If the McCainaanites have to put money and effort into Texas, that accounted for 2/3 of George Bush's popular vote lead over John Kerry, they will be hurting big-time.
Thematically, like Obama, Richardson also represents change. "Change you can believe in" will be buttressed by "change that works", because Richardson has actually brought major change to what was one of the country's poorest states. That is change that many parts of the country seek. Moreover, Richardson is genetically predisposed to unity and transcending phony differences, exactly Obama's message.
Let us be also blunt about the political knock on Richardson. With Obama-Richardson there are two "people of color" on the ticket. The good ethnic news -- it bridges a supposed gap between the two groups. The good political news -- it shows that such considerations, if not passé, are at least not dispositive.
The question is whether significant numbers of voters who would not have voted for an Obama ticket because of Obama's race would do so if he had a Caucasian running mate, but not if another person of color, no matter how accomplished, completed the ticket. That is not a question that can be polled, but it seems highly unlikely. And, with McCain's prominent position on immigration, it will be hard for Republicans to demagogue that issue that, by the way, did not work very well for them anyhow.
Finally, because the Clinton campaign used Richardson's endorsement as an attempt to set an example for other superdelegates not to "defect", and failed, there may be a concern that selecting Richardson would anger the Clinton camp.
Let us hope that the perfect vice-presidential choice -- with extraordinary international stature, a history of both foreign and domestic political achievements, with expertise in the key areas of energy, diplomacy, economy and governing, with a near-perfect thematic match to our nominee, and with complementary political appeal -- will not be blackballed by such pettiness.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the progressive politics of change to win a landslide victory, change forever the map of American politics, and deliver on policies that the majority of Americans have wanted for decades, and to make the world a better and safer place.
Let us not blow it.