Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 7 News List

US candidate says Hispanic heritage will be beneficial

AP , WESTON, FLORIDA

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson says he believes his Hispanic heritage will be a key asset as he attempts to distinguish himself from other candidates in the 2008 election.

"It will provide, hopefully, a base of support. Hispanic votes are very important in the early primary states, like Nevada," Richardson said on Saturday. "Naturally, I am campaigning hard to get Hispanic support. But I am not running as the Hispanic candidate. I am running as a mainstream American candidate who happens to be Hispanic."

The New Mexico governor -- who also is a former ambassador, Cabinet member, and congressman -- spoke before his speech on Saturday night at a Broward County Democrats' dinner.

The Broward County Democratic Party chairman, Mitch Ceasar, said Richardson's heritage is one of two important growth targets for the party.

The other is that he is from a Western state once considered solidly Republican.

"The challenge will be for him to show not just that he's the Hispanic candidate, but that he can mobilize that base," Ceasar said. "His ability to do that will be measured and considered by all candidates in the future."

Joe Garcia, executive vice president of the nonprofit NDN Network, formerly known as the New Democratic Network, said Richardson is "what the new Democratic Party will look like" as it works to attract Hispanics and make inroads in the West.

"I think he offers tremendous opportunity for the growth of the party in areas where the party needs to grow," the Miami activist said.

Richardson's father was an international banker from Boston and his mother was Mexican. Richardson settled in New Mexico after several years as a Washington staffer, partly because of the state's large Hispanic population.

His main problem in the 2008 campaign is that he trails the top-tier candidates -- New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards -- in name recognition and fundraising.

Richardson does have a strong resume that includes stints as US ambassador to the UN, energy secretary, congressman and twice-elected New Mexico governor.

Richardson said this broad experience is unmatched by any of his rivals and said his campaign is based on selling that resume to voters.

"When the American people see my record and my experience, they will know I'm not just a candidate who talks the talk, I've walked the walk. I've done things this country needs," Richardson said. "I may not have the most resources or the rock-star status, but I think this should be an election about competence and vision for the country."

In his speech to about 700 Broward Democrats, Richardson called for US troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2007 and said he is uniquely qualified to help broker a workable power-sharing arrangement among the competing factions in Iraq.

"The next president must be able to repair the damage that's been done to our national reputation," Richardson said. "It is time for our troops to leave with honor."

Also, Richardson, who has visited North Korea several times for talks, both in an official and unofficial capacity, said the recent tentative agreement with the communist government over its nuclear program illustrates that "diplomacy can work even with the most unsavory of regimes."

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