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Published by: ax-is on Feb 24, 2008
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February 23, 2008No Longer in Race, Richardson Is a Man PursuedBy MARK LEIBOVICHSANTA FE, N.M. — Lots of people are calling Gov. Bill Richardson these days, “justto check in.”Barack Obama calls every three days or so. He called on Friday of last week, butMr. Richardson was tied up with the Legislature, so he tried again on Monday andleft a message on voice mail (“following up from Friday”) before finallyconnecting with his defeated presidential rival late Tuesday, and then again twodays later.Mr. Richardson took a half-hour call from Bill Clinton on Tuesday and receivedabout 10 others — a typical day — from people calling “on behalf of Hillary”:former cabinet secretaries, mutual friends, elected officials. “Heavyweighttypes,” Mr. Richardson calls them.“Barack is very precise,” the governor observed, sitting in his office at the NewMexico Capitol. The Obama campaign rarely pesters him with surrogates. Mr. Obama’sapproach is like “a surgical bomb,” he said, while “the Clintons are more like acarpet bomb.”Mr. Richardson quit the presidential race on Jan. 10 and has since gone fromcourting voters at the grass roots to being courted himself at the highest levels.He is “genuinely torn” about any endorsement, he said, adding that he might offerone next week or perhaps not at all.He is one of the biggest prospective endorsers in the Democratic Party: formercandidate, prominent Hispanic governor, influential superdelegate and generallybeloved teddy bear among party insiders, if not by the voters of Iowa and NewHampshire, both of which dealt him distant fourth-place finishes in their earlynominating contests.Mr. Richardson’s transition from supplicant to benefactor provides a glimpse intoa rarefied theater of political persuasion. Within hours of his exit from therace, he received calls from Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and John Edwards. Mr.Clinton, who as president made him United Nations ambassador and then energysecretary, called him even before his withdrawal was announced. All of them wishedMr. Richardson the best and told him he had run a great race and, oh, by the way,“we need you.”And they promised to be in touch.“I want to make it clear that I’m not annoyed by any of this,” Mr. Richardson saidof the repeated overtures.Actually there was one voice-mail message that chafed. It came from a well-knownClinton loyalist, whom Mr. Richardson will not identify except by sex.“She really ticked me off,” he said. Her tone and words suggested that he owedMrs. Clinton his endorsement. Mr. Richardson complained to Mr. Clinton duringtheir phone conversation on Tuesday, and the former president assured him that thewoman was not speaking for the Clinton campaign.Since ending his own run for the White House, Mr. Richardson has entered what hecalls “a period of decompression.” He has grown a beard, ridden his beloved horse,Sundance, and started going to art museums around New Mexico again and to boxingmatches in Las Vegas. He is sleeping about seven hours a night, up from four on
the campaign trail, yet somehow looks more tired, as if the accumulated wear ofthe last year has taken residence in his eyes.He said he missed running for president “a great deal,” but he is trying to get onwith the business of New Mexico. Yes, he admits thinking about being someone’srunning mate, or maybe secretary of state.“I can’t preclude it,” the 60-year-old governor said. “But I’m not pining for it,and if it doesn’t happen, I’ve had a great life. I’m at peace with myself.”In their courtship of Mr. Richardson, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are skilledand nonpressuring, their efforts appropriate, he said. They make no implicitsuggestions of future jobs or favors. Sometimes they talk issues, usually a bitabout the state of the race.“I’m in San Antone,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Richardson when he called Tuesday, thegovernor recalled. The conversation quickly moved, as it usually does these days,to the importance of Hispanic voters in the Texas primary on March 4.“You’d be a big help to us in Texas,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Richardson when he calledonce more on Thursday, from Austin.Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama typically keep Mr. Richardson on the phone about 5 to10 minutes, rarely longer, in calls usually made between their campaign events.“Barack’s a little looser” in his conversations, Mr. Richardson said. The two mendeveloped a back-of-the-classroom rapport during the presidential debates,exchanging winks or eye rolls when one of the other candidates “would getoutrageous or something,” Mr. Richardson said.In a call last week, Mr. Richardson feigned shock to Mr. Obama that he hadprevailed in the District of Columbia primary, a teasing reference to Washington’sheavily black population. The two men shared a giggle, and then it was down tobusiness.“Come on, Bill, we’ll make history, man,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Richardson, thegovernor said. “Me, you and Teddy” (as in Kennedy, an ardent Obama supporter andbig-time hero to Mr. Richardson).“Hillary I’ve known longer,” Mr. Richardson said in the interview. “We have a lotof history. I like her.” They have literally hundreds of mutual friends they maychitchat about. They reminisce. She asks him about his wife, Barbara.But it is clear that Mr. Richardson is more of a Bill Clinton guy. They share manyinterests, are both barreling, space-absorbing personalities and full-bloodedpolitical animals. (Mr. Richardson holds a Guinness World Record for shaking13,392 hands in an eight-hour period at the 2002 New Mexico State Fair.)Early this month, Mr. Clinton called Mr. Richardson and insisted on seeing himface to face. Mr. Richardson said he could not make it unless Mr. Clinton camedown to New Mexico to watch the Super Bowl on television with him, which Mr.Clinton rearranged his schedule to do. Mr. Obama heard about that and promptlycalled Mr. Richardson.“You know, I’d be good company, too,” Mr. Obama told him, Mr. Richardson reported.The Bills watched the game in the Governor’s Mansion, Mr. Richardson rooting forNew England, Mr. Clinton for New York. They smoked cigars, drank wine, devoured

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