04 August 2008

Denver Post Promotes Richardson for VP

While Michael Gerson was busy distracting readers with the possibility of an Obama/Ritter candidacy this past Friday, the editorial board at the Denver Post had another, western states governor in their sites: New Mexico's Bill Richardson.

The Denver Post made its case Sunday for Richardson for veep, and I can only see this as a welcome call. Richardson brings the international credibility that Obama is so often seen as lacking, and he also happens to be a widely popular governor in his home state of New Mexico. And, uh, he'll bring at least some of the much sought-after, Latino vote (not to mention some of the much sought-after, western states vote).

Also, Richardson ran one of the best ads of the early presidential campaign season (FWIW, which obviously ain't much).

So, the negatives. The biggest that I see comes in the form of a question Steve Clemons asked back in 2007 when Richardson threw his hat in as a contender among Democrats, early in that primary. Here's the way Clemons, who cites previous experience working with Richardson's staff when Richardson served in the House of Representatives, cozies up to the problem.

I will frame this as a "question" for Bill Richardson.

Have you behaved inappropriately or not in public settings with female members of your government administration, jokingly or not? Have you gestured to female public servants and political appointees -- who work as colleagues with you -- and made lewd gestures, specifically pointing to them and then pointing at your crotch with a room full of media and other politicos there in the room?

I ask this not to demean or undermine Richardson.

I ask it because I was not in the room when this particular incident occurred but many others were -- and rumors have long swept around Santa Fe that Bill Richardson makes a frequent joke out of demeaning women. These incidents don't have to do with the comments by Lt. Governor Diane Denish that Richardson is a "touchy" and "feely" Governor. They have to do with questions about a far more crude kind of gesture that demeans professional women.

These concerns I have heard may be completely contrived, but after speaking with several senior level New Mexico officials, my sense is that it needs to at a minimum be addressed by the Governor who wants to be President. Some suggest that Richardson "can't stop himself" or "doesn't even realize what he is doing" or thinks that "this sort of thing is part of New Mexico's political scene."

Clemons treads some tricky waters, here. By his own admission, the topic is based on hearsay and perpetuated by rumor. After reading it twice, I still want to brush the thing aside and say "Nah. If that was true it would have exploded by now." And yet, the whisper campaign could be all it takes. As soft as the media has gone on John McCain's history of documented, inappropriate treatment of colleagues, staffers, journalists, and even his wife, expect the wheels to come off the cart as the McCain camp, the RNC, the special interests, and the news industry get up to speed dismantling Obama's pick, whomever that is, for the #2 spot.

So I wonder what the vetting process turns up, and whether it deems Richardson as carrying too much baggage or not (a la Jim Webb, the outspoken Senator who published novels with gratuitous passages, and once sent a staffer packing heat through Senate security).

To be sure, other pols have weathered close scrutiny, and even allegations, over their conduct toward women. Bill Clinton did it in the wake of the Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers brouhahas (not to mention that other one), and Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to navigate similarly choppy waters in his bid to become California governor. So Clemons' questions may not be the sort of questions that derail the Richardson bid, but they may also raise issues that the Obama campaign could do without right now.

Richardson, to be sure, boasts a more global resume than the oft-mentioned Tim Kaine of Virginia and Evan Bayh of Indiana. But he also presents another unique challenge: could he seriously alienate recalcitrant, Dem voters (read Clintonites) who already see electing Obama as a stretch? I've posted before that I wonder who these Hillary supporters are who are so entrenched in their own process that they won't vote for the strongest Democrat in the running this year. I've also speculated that this whole notion reeks of Rovian pursuits, e.g., tell the public what you want the public to believe. A Richardson nod, however, could result in a backlash of voices against Obama from one of the Democratic candidate's newest core constituencies: Hillary Clinton supporters. The Clintons themselves must know as well as anybody the incredible stakes of full-contact politics, but I wonder if the bile they'd swallow to stump for an Obama/Richardson ticket wouldn't prove too much. It would all depend, I suppose, on what the Obama camp would be willing to offer the Clintons.

Or maybe that's more of the "old politics" talking. Maybe the electorate and the Democratic Party are simply ready for the best ticket, period. I think, if Richardson can satisfy the internal vetting process, then that might be the way to go. I have no idea what that process will turn up. Obviously, Richardson would be a shoo-in for cabinet (State Dept.), but as far as giving the ticket a boost and getting the Democrat into the White House, I think he'd also help there. More so than a Jim Webb (who says he won't do it), a Tim Kaine, or even a Bill Ritter (who, as David Sirota pointed out yesterday, isn't even popular in his home state, much as we wish he were).