It may be hokey, and it's certainly naive, but there's still something wonderful about the truism that anyone born in the United States can grow up to be president. Which is why you'll seldom see this magazine fault the men and women who run for president without a prayer in the world of winning. Whether it's Morry "The Grizz" Taylor, the tire magnate who ran in 1996; or Jeff Costa, who donned a crustacean suit and campaigned as Lobsterman in 2000; or any of the other hopeless long-shot presidential candidates who come along every four years--The New Republic salutes you!
But we are unable to muster that sentiment for Bill Richardson--at least, not at this point. To be sure, Richardson has a more realistic shot at the White House than The Grizz or Lobsterman ever did. His impressive record of public service includes more than 14 years in Congress, stints as U.N. ambassador and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, and two terms as New Mexico's governor. Richardson is also the first serious Hispanic candidate for the White House. But, in spite of these qualifications--which have been overshadowed by his numerous gaffes on the trail (see "Paper Candidate," June 18)--Richardson's presidential campaign has failed to take off. He's mired in the single digits in the polls, and--barring the simultaneous collapse of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards-- it's hard to see how he'll capture the Democratic nomination. (And even then he'd have to duke it out with Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd.) Put a fork in Richardson '08; it's done.
Except it's not. There's one campaign Richardson has a good shot of winning in 2008: the race for New Mexico's U.S. Senate seat that Republican Pete Domenici will vacate after six terms. Richardson was elected to his second gubernatorial term in 2006 with a whopping 69 percent of the vote; and his approval rating in New Mexico-- in contrast to his approval rating in, say, Iowa--remains high. A recent poll showed Richardson as the only Democrat who could top 60 percent in a Senate race against likely GOP candidates. It's little wonder then that, when Domenici announced his retirement last week, Democrats in New Mexico and in Washington began beseeching Richardson to abandon his presidential campaign and run for the Senate instead.
Alas, Richardson has rebuffed these requests. As he told ABC News's George Stephanopoulos this week, "I'm running for president. And I'm going to be the nominee. I'm not running for Senate." Asked by Stephanopoulos if he might change his mind before the February 8 filing deadline for the Senate race, Richardson replied: "I'm not going to reconsider. By ... February 8, I will have won the California and New Mexico and Arizona primaries. I will be on my way." On his way back to Albuquerque to serve out the last two years of his second gubernatorial term, we'd argue, but why quibble?
Richardson, of course, has the right to nurse his hopeless presidential ambitions until his fellow Democrats unmercifully crush them in the actual caucuses and primaries. But, if Richardson truly cared about his party--not to mention his country--he would give up that right, abandon his presidential campaign, and toss his hat in the ring for the U.S. Senate. After all, while Richardson won't be in the White House come 2009, there's a good chance that another Democrat will be. And that president will need all the help she--or he-- can get.