New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson
Jeff Geissler  /  AP
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, seen at the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., said Sunday he is taking the first step toward a 2008 presidential race.
updated 1/21/2007 1:50:46 PM ET 2007-01-21T18:50:46

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico took the first step Sunday toward an expected White House run in 2008, a high-profile state chief who promoted his extensive experience in Washington and the world stage as he seeks to become the first Hispanic president.

“What this country needs is bipartisanship and to bring back civility” in government, Richardson told The Associated Press. “I’ve had Cabinet experience. I’ve been U.N. ambassador. I’ve actually done what a lot of candidates give speeches on.”

In a video posted on his Web site, the Democrat spoke of “a clear intention of declaring my candidacy for president in the very near future.”

“I am taking this step because we have to repair the damage that’s been done to our country over the last six years,” said Richardson, a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and Energy Department secretary.

“Our reputation in the world is diminished, our economy has languished, and civility and common decency in government has perished,” he said in a statement.

He said he had set up an exploratory committee that will allow him to begin raising money and assembling his campaign organization.

“The governor is in it to run for president,” spokesman Pahl Shipley said. The official announcement will come this spring, after the end of New Mexico’s legislative session, he said.

Joins wide field of candidates
Richardson joins a crowded and historically diverse field of contenders in a fast-developing campaign. On Saturday, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she wanted to be the first female president. Last week, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois jumped in, a formidable contender who would be the first black commander in chief.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, Richardson said he believes the United States is “a very tolerant, positive country” that is ready for either a female, black or Hispanic chief executive.

“But I wouldn’t run as a Hispanic candidate. I would run as an American, proud to be Hispanic, proud of my heritage. It’s a growing, dynamic community in this country. But I wouldn’t just be focusing on Hispanic issues or trying to get the Hispanic vote,” Richardson said in an interview taped Thursday that aired on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.

‘Out of Iraq without delay’
In his statement, Richardson stressed his foreign affairs experience, said he wanted U.S. troops to return quickly from Iraq and urged a change of leadership in Washington that would work to bridge a wide partisan divide.

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“The next president of the United States must get our troops out of Iraq without delay,” Richardson said. “I know the Middle East well and it’s clear that our presence in Iraq isn’t helping any longer.”

He added that the next president “must be able to bring a country together that is divided and partisan. It is clear that Washington is broken and it’s going to take a return to bipartisanship and simple respect for each other’s views to get it fixed.”

Most policy innovations, he said, are coming these days from governors, Richardson said. “On issues like the environment, jobs, and health care, state governments are leading the way. And that’s because we can’t be partisan or we won’t get our jobs done. That’s a lesson I’ve learned as governor and that’s what I’ll do as president.”

Richardson has extensive experience in international affairs that has extended even into his governorship of a small but politically important swing state.

‘The best-equipped candidate’
“I know I’m not the favorite in this race. As an underdog and governor of a small, western state, I will not have the money that other candidates will have. However, I believe these serious times demand serious people, who have real-world experience in solving the challenges we face. I humbly believe I’m the best-equipped candidate to meet these challenges,” Richardson said in his video.

He has hosted talks on North Korea’s nuclear program in New Mexico and most recently traveled to Sudan to meet with the country’s president to press him for an end to the bloodshed in Darfur.

Despite the varied resume, Richardson enters the race as an underdog. Polling in early voting states shows him ranking near the bottom in a very crowded Democratic field led by Clinton, Obama and 2004 vice presidential nominee John Edwards.

Other Democratic contenders include former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack; Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd; Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice-presidential nominee. Delaware Sen. Joe Biden has said he will run and planned to formalize his intentions soon. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the party’s 2004 standard bearer, is also contemplating another run.

A smaller fundraising network
Richardson does not have the national fundraising network of some of his rivals in what is bound to be a very expensive race. Also, he will have to spend the next two months concentrating on a legislative session in Santa Fe, N.M., instead of campaigning.

William Blaine Richardson was born in Pasadena, Calif. His father was an international banker from Boston; his mother was Mexican. He spent his early childhood in Mexico City, where his father worked for CitiBank. As a teenager, he attended a boarding school in Concord, Mass.

After graduating from Tufts University in 1971 with a master’s degree in international affairs, Richardson worked first as a congressional aide and then for the State Department. He was a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he decided to leave Washington in 1978 to launch a political career.

Richardson settled in New Mexico, partly because of the state’s large Hispanic population. In 1982, Richardson was elected to the House and then was re-elected seven times.

In 1996, President Clinton named Richardson ambassador to the United Nations, where he served until 1998, when he joined the Clinton cabinet as energy secretary.

He was easily elected governor of New Mexico in 2002 and re-elected in November with 68 percent of the vote.

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