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What About Bill?

And did I mention he was also Secretary of Energy? Too bad nobody thinks energy independence and global climate change are important policy areas in which it would be good for the chief executive to have some knowledge. Oh, well. ~Matt Yglesias [1]

This is a good article about my home state’s governor, and Mr. Yglesias is absolutely right that Richardson should be taken a lot more seriously than he is, but a few words of warning are in order.  While I have been saying for the last few weeks that Bill Richardson is a relatively credible candidate, and that I think he will probably wind up pulling out an upset victory to get the nomination before it’s all said and done (partly because his competition is so risibly weak and flawed), he has his own vulnerabilities.  His record in Congress put him much farther to the left than he is today, his record at the U.N. was basically unremarkable and his time as head of DOE was a catastrophe. 

All of this will come back to haunt a Richardson ticket, should he make it that far, and the DOE tenure especially will prove potentially devastating when it comes to the whole Chinese espionage bit.  Richardson boosters probably will want to not mention his time at DOE if they can possibly help it.  His opponents can just keep replaying that scene from the Senate oversight hearings as Robert Byrd declares Richardson’s career finished [2]

You had a bright and brilliant career, but you will never again receive the support of the U.S. Senate for any office you seek. You have squandered your treasure.

LANL security problems weren’t a new thing when Richardson took over, but he did bumblingly preside over some of the worst security lapses at a national nuclear lab ever and then proceeded to keep on bumbling in organising the appropriate response.  Only by comparison with Hazel O’Leary, his immediate predecessor, does Richardson come off looking like a competent administrator of a federal department.  In other words, in his only executive experience at the federal level, he was a monumental failure. 

If you think Richardson is some battle-hardened veteran of serious campaigning, think again.  He was elected in the Third District, a district so overwhelmingly Democratic that it makes the South Side of Chicago seem like a moderate, centrist sort of place.  He never faced real competition for re-election.  In his gubernatorial races, he faced the two weakest Republican candidates for governor in living memory and…managed somehow to beat them!  John Sanchez, New Mexico’s answer to Barack Obama at the state level, was not able to win the governorship after one term in the state senate–why might that be?  John Dendahl, a virtual last-minute replacement candidate, was so widely disliked even by many other Republicans that he never had the slightest chance of competing.  Richardson even refused to debate Dendahl, whom his campaign declared to be a “thug” (Dendahl is something of a brass-knuckles political operator for the state party), but he didn’t suffer for it at all.  His landslide re-election victory looks good on paper, but it comes from a state where a Democratic candidate has huge built-in advantages against non-existent competition.  Richardson has charisma and can gladhand with the best of them, but he has never really been tested, despite having stood for election many, many times.

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2 Comments To "What About Bill?"

#1 Comment By daninardmore On February 20, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

But probably most people’s impression of Richardson comes from his TV commercials boosting New Mexico tourism, in which he comes across as quite personable and reasonably photogenic. These days (actually, ever since JFK/Nixon), that goes a long way.

#2 Comment By bilgepump On February 20, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

I guess charisma has a different definition in New Mexico.