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Why Richardson Matters

My latest piece is about the one thing the various primary-campaign scenarios have in common: they all really hurt Democrats' chance of beating John McCain. Not surprisingly, most of them involve Clinton and Obama beating the hell out of each other for a significant period of time. (More Clinton than Obama, but Obama isn't guiltless either...) 

That's why I was encouraged by this excellent Times piece explaining Bill Richardson's endorsement yesterday. Reports the Times

“I’m not going to advise any other candidate when to get in and out of the race,” Mr. Richardson said after appearing in Portland with Mr. Obama. “Senator Clinton has a right to stay in the race, but eventually we don’t want to go into the Democratic convention bloodied. This was another reason for my getting in and endorsing, the need to perhaps send a message that we need unity.” ...

Mr. Richardson said he was dispirited by the tone of the Democratic nominating fight, reflecting a sentiment that has been increasingly voiced by party leaders. Unlike many others, though, Mr. Richardson placed the blame on Mrs. Clinton.

“I believe the campaign has gotten too negative,” Mr. Richardson said, speaking to reporters in Portland. “I want it to be positive. I think that’s what’s been very good about Senator Obama’s campaign--it’s a positive campaign about hope and opportunity.” ...

The move by Mr. Richardson could give license to other superdelegates who had been holding back, at the request of the Clintons. His endorsement could prove particularly potent with this group because of the way he chastised Mrs. Clinton for the tone of the campaign, and his call for the party to unify around one candidate.

The reason I find this encouraging is not that Richardson's taking Hillary to task. It's that he's willing to use his stature to prevent the race from getting out of hand. Richardson has shown there's a real cost to going negative, whereas other high-profile superdelegates haven't been willing to signal that, at least not very credibly. As I report in my piece:

Undecided superdelegates on Capitol Hill, along with party elders like Pelosi, Gore, and Harry Reid, "don't want to be seen as elites coming in and overturning the will of the people," says one senior House aide. A Senate staffer says his boss "thinks this give and take is natural, it will be helpful in the end." "That's a view held by a majority of these guys who have been through the cut and thrust of politics," he adds. 

These feelings are completely understandable. But they gave the impression that no one was minding the store. Richardson changes that.

--Noam Scheiber