The ambivalence about a Latino presidential candidate surfaced in a Newsweek poll in July 2007. Slightly more than 80 percent of voters said they'd vote for a Latino for president. That was 10 percent less than said they would vote for an African-American, and five percent less than for a woman president. There was more unsettling news for Richardson. Only 25 percent felt that he was qualified to be president. That was almost 10 percent less than said the same thing about Obama.
At first glance the public's notion that he was far less qualified than Obama seemed odd. As a three term Congressman, he worked on budget issues, gun control, abortion and national security issues. He traveled widely internationally as a sort of diplomat-without-portfolio and brokered deals with Saddam Hussein to free American captives, and Castro to gain the release of American political prisoners. He helped negotiate the release of U.S. pilots held in North Korea. He served a quiet but effective stint as UN ambassador in the mid-1990s, and was hailed as a bridge-builder. He later served as Clinton's Energy Secretary. And he is the highly regarded two-term governor of New Mexico.
Richardson's impressive political brag sheet meant little to Jay Leno. The late night talk show host wisecracked, "And yesterday Bill Richardson officially announced he's running for president. So now he officially has no chance of winning."
Leno's sardonic crack and the public ambivalence toward Richardson was much more than a case of him being an unknown quantity on the national political scene. The ambivalence could be traced in some respects to doubts and divisions on immigration. The issue is a double-edged sword for Richardson. When he boasts that he's the only Latino candidate in the presidential derby, the red flags are hoisted high among many Americans. Their suspicion is that as president he would tilt too heavily toward the most liberal immigration reform, and do and say nothing to secure the borders. It's an easy step for some fearful voters to also strongly suspect that Richardson would be much too soft when it came to minority interests, especially Latino interests. Richardson has worked to dispel that thought. He notes that he vetoed a measure that would have stopped New Mexico state police from enforcing immigration laws. But Richardson quietly put the same measure into effect through an executive order. It was political fence straddling with a vengeance. The veto served its purpose. It made Richardson appear to be a Western state governor who was tough on illegal immigration.
Richardson as a Latino knows the peril of being seen as too pro-Latino-interests. The title of his autobiography, "Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life," is a bold declaration that he is a man of two identities. In an interview with the Arizona Republic in April 2007, Richardson was asked directly if being a Latino help or hurt his ability to deal with both sides in the immigration debate. The interviewer undoubtedly meant the pro- and anti-immigration forces.
However, it could have just as easily been a double entendre for the duality of being a Latino American. There was a faint undertone of the invisible separation between the two in the question. Richardson's answer walked the razor thin line. "I'm not just a Latino. I'm running for president for all Americans." It won't be the last time he'll have to reassure Americans about that.
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Albion Monitor July
30, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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