Saturday, March 22, 2008

Richardson endorses Obama.

Thursday, Bill Richardson, who I supported for President until he dropped out, endorsed Barack Obama, who I switched to and who I actually voted for.

You'd think this post would therefore be completely laudatory. But it's not. In good faith I can't just jump up and down and yell about how happy I am about it. I'd love to but I have just a few nagging reservations, and they are best addressed by looking at some of the political angles.

It is true that I am very happy to see Richardson, who was criticized during the campaign for being indecisive (i.e. 'Yankees or Red Sox?') firmly committing himself to endorsing a candidate. It is true that I still respect Richardson (who I first met over twenty years ago when he was my congressman) and believe that he would do a fine job in any cabinet position, especially any that involved diplomacy, at which he has excelled. And it is true that I am glad that when he finally made a decision about choosing a candidate he chose Obama. That isn't easy to do. Bill Clinton reportedly got in his face and berated Richardson earlier in the campaign (not sure if it is the day the two of them pointedly watched the Super Bowl together) for not endorsing his wife then (asking whether two cabinet positions Richardson was appointed to during the Clinton administration was not enough to warrant an endorsement,) and the conversation that Richardson had with Hillary Clinton before he endorsed Obama was (according to Richardson, but reflecting what others have said about similar phone conversations), 'painful' and difficult. The sense of anger, frustration and resentment from the Clinton campaign is palpable, with Clinton friend and confidante James Carville noting that it happened just before Easter and comparing Richardson to Judas Iscariot and claiming that his 'betrayal' was for 'thirty pieces of silver.' It is clear that if Hillary beats the odds and ends up as President, Richardson won't be nominated for dogcatcher.

However I have to say that the quote by Richardson that he made his decision after hearing Obama's speech on race last week just doesn't feel right. It may well be that Richardson, after doing the delegate math and figuring out that Obama will most likely win, may have used the speech on race as the first major event that came along that he could reasonably cite as a reason to endorse Obama and hitch his wagon to the winning train. However, Richardson has always struck me as a good hard calculator and not one to get carried away with the emotion of the moment (one of the characteristics which has made him a good diplomat,) and as such I would much rather see him just go ahead and say so. Say he believes that Obama is going to be the nominee and that he is supporting him.

Richardson is rumored to want to be the Vice Presidential nominee, or if not that then Secretary of State.

He won't be the Vice Presidential nominee. Obama, assuming he wins the nomination, will need to unify the party. As such there will be a lot of pressure for him to accept Hillary Clinton as number two. If that doesn't happen (either because he resists the pressure or she refuses the job) then there are two somewhat contradictory schools of thought on how he could unify the party. One is to choose a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton if she doesn't want it herself, especially one who would help with the electoral math. Two men who are known to be on her short list, Senator (and former Governor) Evan Bayh of Indiana and Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio-- both of whom also have the executive experience that Obama lacks, would likely be at the top of that list. The other train of thought in terms of getting Hillary supporters to accept Obama is that many women have waited for a long time to have a female President. To obviously reach and choose a woman (as Walter Mondale did when he chose congresswoman-- yes, Geraldine Ferraro-- in 1984) would seem to be a pander and would likely turn off a lot of voters who see Obama as being above that kind of thing. However he could without reaching look for and choose a highly qualified female candidate, especially a Governor who has proven she can do the job as an executive and would therefore make a good running mate for Obama. That may be easier said than done though. Three of the four Democratic Governors whose names come up first, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Christine Gregoire of Washington and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, endorsed Obama much earlier in the campaign, and might not help with hard-core Clinton supporters who support Clinton for her positions rather than her gender (and there are many of them, in fact.) The fourth, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is a strong supporter of Clinton but runs afoul of the Constitutional requirement that if she became President she would have to be native-born (Granholm was born in Canada.) Uniting the party in the event that Hillary Clinton refuses to join the ticket or Obama feels that he can't accept her would be a problem for Obama, but it's not a problem the solution to which puts Bill Richardson on the radar screen in any way. For that matter, if Clinton-- after finishing a very strong second, were passed over in favor of the candidate who finished a very distant fourth and withdrew the day after the New Hampshire primary, that would probably be seen by Hillary and her supporters as the equivalent of a slap in the face, and with some justification. So the bottom line is that Richardson certainly won't be nominated to run for Vice President.

A much stronger likelihood is that Richardson is angling for the position of Secretary of State. He'd likely be very good at it too, based on his numerous diplomatic successes in all kinds of negotiations in the past. Richardson, in his position as a freelancing diplomat as well as U.N. ambassador during the Clinton administration, has successfully negotiated treaties with everyone from the dictatorship of North Korea to bands of thugs who have taken American hostages in remote and war-torn regions. Last year he negotiated a cease-fire in Darfur. Frankly, even if he had not endorsed Obama, Obama would be foolish not to pick Richardson for Secretary of State. Politically, Richardson may have the inside track on that job, especially if the other top contender is another former Presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Biden has been even more cautious about issuing an endorsement than Richardson, and while he has been the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, he has never personally gotten his hands dirty with the business of negotiating tough treaties in tough circumstances as Richardson has. Given Obama's inexperience in foreign policy, he needs the best Secretary of State he can get and that would be Bill Richardson.

So it's clear that Obama can give Richardson the position he wants. What Richardson brings is an appeal to Hispanic voters, a group that Obama has underperformed with. Further, by the timing of his annoucement, coming on virtually the same day as the 'passportgate' scandal which cast Obama in a role in which he was both the victimized party and able to forcefully but calmly demand an investigation, Richardson was able to give Obama two major news stories favorable to Obama within the same news cycle and blow Jeremiah Wright's sermons off the front page despite the best efforts of the right-wing media to keep them there. And in the news business, once news is old and replaced by new news, it doesn't tend to return unless there is something new to pull it back to top billing.

Clinton campaign manager Mark Penn said that Richardson's endorsement comes too late to really help Obama with Hispanic voters. Rarely do I agree with Mark Penn, but I think he has a point there. Nevada, New Mexico, California, Arizona and Texas have already voted (and all for Clinton). There is a small but possibly significant Hispanic concentration, oddly enough, in North Carolina (a state Obama is expected to win anyway) and some in Oregon, and then there is Puerto Rico's last-in-the-nation primary, but the truth is that the vast majority of Hispanic voters have already voted. Very likely, given the small margins by which Clinton won in both states, a Richardson endorsement and campaign on behalf of Obama in New Mexico and Texas would have swung both states to Obama but Richardson was too cautious and did not issue an endorsement in time for either state. However, Richardson could be a strong help to Obama if he does campaign in Puerto Rico, and in a general election may be just the antidote that Obama needs if he is willing to barnstorm for Obama, especially in his own state but also in other swing states.

But Richardson, in taking as long as he did to make the bold move, and appearing to worry too much about trying to please both sides (or perhaps it might be better said, trying to displease neither) until so late in the campaign, brought into sharp focus some of the weaknesses he had that probably hurt him during his own Presidential run.


Anonymous said...

Michael Coleman of the Albuquerque Journal wrote in the Easter Sunday paper that Richardson told him he'd promised Obama he'd endorse him a full 10 days before the public announcement came, but that the announcement was delayed because Richardson and his wife were going to the Caribbean for a vacation. The article says Richardson felt Obama's speech confirmed to him that he'd made the right decision.

I don't think Richardson will be Obama's VP choice either but I will make what I think is the main case in favor of Richardson getting selected. One of the issues that Obama has is that he's weak among hispanic voters and there's a real worry that a significant number will vote for McCain. There's two reasons for that worry: (1) McCain has a reputation as a moderate (for a Republican) on immigration; and (2) there's a lot of long-standing mistrust between blacks and hispanics. Picking Richardson would be a significant move towards preventing movement of Latino voters towards McCain.

froggyprager said...

I like your very thoughtful and detailed post on this topic. I agree it is too late to be much help for Obama. It does smell a bit like he was trying to hitch his horse to the winning ticket. I was also for Richardson and was very interested in this event. It seems that Richardson has not and does not get the attention he should as a significant player and this news is really not big news in the race.

I agree with Indy voter that Obama needs help with the hispanic vote and Richardson could really help more if he were the VP rather than just an endorser and the forign policy experience would be a big help too.

There is no way that Clinton would be Obama's VP. She cannot respect the fact that the American people actually would choose Obama over her and could not go out and campaign for him for months.

I have not seem such a good overview of the politics and options for VP nominees. Nice work. The only other thought would be a military person or a female senator with some forign policy experience. I know Wesley Clark is for Clinton but I wonder whether he would switch. Do you know about Boxer or Finestein? I know they are liberal and from CA but they may appeal to the older Clinton supporters?

Eli Blake said...

Of course while picking Richardson might help with Hispanic voters, there is the countervailing concern that (especially after the Wright controversy) that race has now been injected into the campaign in a way that might make a ticket of both an African-American and a Hispanic an issue with white voters (even though both Obama and Richardson had one white parent.)

I've never been a fan of Hillary Clinton, to be honest, but I really do believe that in order to unify the party that Obama will need to do the best job he can of reaching out to Clinton supporters. I'm not all that sure that Hillary wouldn't take the number two slot if Obama offered it to her either. If he wins then she would be in a position to be the front-runner eight years later (i.e. Richard Nixon (1960) Walter Mondale, George H.W. Bush and Al Gore.) She would be pushing seventy by then, but she might ironically find that door opened a little wider, ironically by John McCain (even if he loses.)

She has a losing hand, unless something really dramatic happens between now and the convention. But she does (and will, once the primaries are over) have the strength to negotiate, even though it is based mostly on a negative angle (promising to support the nominee in return for, for example, the VP slot and the right to for example be the point person on health care or perhaps some other issues.)

Zach said...

I was going to post exactly the point you made in a comment on here Eli. As much as I think the race issue is overplayed, I think it would be unwise and unrealistic for the Dems to run two minorities on the ticket.

In fact, I think that making history once is probably enough for them, and my guess would be that we will see a white male on the ticket with Obama, not a female or another minority. I also think that it may not necessarily be someone from the Clinton camp, but someone from the "Washington insider" group nonetheless. I think this move would bring over Clinton supporters by bringing Obama's message of hope back down to the ground, and having a practical, experienced person there to temper his "unrealistic" hopes.

One interesting thought I had today was Al Gore. In last week's Time they discussed a very farfetched possibility of him actually winding up as the nominee with Obama as Veep. That's extremely unlikely at this point.

On the other hand, that ticket is still a possibility. Between already having served in the office, and his recent, though in my opinion undeserved, Nobel Prize, why not Gore? There is no term limit on the Vice Presidency, and Gore will likely attract many voters that might not otherwise support Obama. In addition, he is a very conservative (not politically, but in the sense of not representing change) option, to balance out the unfortunately still radical idea that we would have a young, smart, black (triple threat, you know) male as our next President.