Bill Richardson

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson came to a Monitor sponsored breakfast on Tuesday in two roles – chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association and potential presidential candidate.

As chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, Richardson talked up his party's prospects in the 36 statehouse races that will be decided this November.

"I believe we will win the House of Representatives, the Senate probably [is] a little more difficult," Richardson said. "I can honestly say I believe we will win a majority of governorships this year.... We will win in New York. We will win in Massachusetts. We will win in Colorado. We will win in Ohio. We will win in Arkansas. We have some very competitive toss ups in Nevada [and] Florida. We will win in Maryland. I would put Maryland in the 'feel confident' [category]."

Another governor's race where Richardson is confident is New Mexico. Although he is running for reelection, Richardson felt confident enough to take time out for a swing through several Eastern states to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

Richardson was also in Washington as someone pondering a move from the state house to the White House. The governor told reporters at the breakfast that he "will make a decision early next year" on whether to run for president. But he is already clearly preparing for a presidential run.

For example, Richardson instantly offered up a highly detailed plan when asked what he would do about Iraq if he were president.

Here is a key portion of his response: "I would set a timetable for withdrawal. I would couple that with a political solution of the three ethic groups forcing them to have a political solution. There is no military solution. Specifically, I would divide up the oil revenue, the cabinet ministries and force them to come up with a new political framework. I would also study Senator Biden's federation [proposal]. I think that may be ultimately the right solution."

Richardson continued: "I would set up a Middle East peace conference that would deal with civil administration and reconstruction of Iraq.... Muslim and European nations would be part of that. I would then redeploy [US] troops, leave a residual force in Iraq [and] put [troops] where we really need them, [in] Afghanistan. I would put others in Gulf States to deal with international terrorism threats. And I would also use a large part of those financial budgets and reserves that we use in Iraq on homeland security in this country. This country is not fully protected. I would emphasize port security. I would emphasize security of our subways [and] our aircraft. I would put money in detection of those liquids that became such a problem...."

Iraq is playing a role in this year's governors races, Richardson said. He said Democrats are riding what he called a "2 percent wave" of voter preference in which the war in Iraq plays a key role.

"I think the Iraq war has a large part to do with that 2 percent, frustration over the Iraq war, frustration over the competence of the Republican administration," Richardson said. "I think all of that combines to help candidates at the state and federal level.... I think the Iraq war also is a factor in governors races. Not that every governor has a position on it. But I do think the Iraq war has coat tails ... that are benefiting Democrats. It is sort of a 'Republicans have been in office too long and they have botched this war and [voters are] going to take it out on Republican candidates.' I see that across the board."

In the longer term, Richardson expects the growth in the country's Hispanic population to help Democrats. "I think President Bush did make some inroads with Hispanic voters in the last election. Maybe 4 percent," Richardson said.

But he added, "I believe that is going to be eroded with a national perception of Hispanics seeing Republicans on the immigration bill wanting to criminalize aliens, wanting to build a fence, wanting to take citizenship away from undocumented workers' kids and having sort of a harsh attitude. So that is the flip side of the wedge issue. And in states with substantial Hispanic populations ... that is going to turn those voters into Democrats and it is going to give Democrats advantages in those states...."

Referring to states with growing Hispanic populations, Richardson said, "My view is that the West is the future of the democratic party - Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah."

There has been a controversy in the Democratic party over Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean spending to rebuild the party in every state. Dean's critics charge that he should focus resources on states with close races. Richardson said, "I am on Dean's side. I think what Howard Dean is doing makes sense.... That is what we should concentrate on. The DNC's role is to rebuild the state Democratic party. For instance in New Mexico ... because of the DNC we have 4 extra full-time campaign workers that have been there. That is helpful."

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