Flanked by local Latino leaders and a large contingent of politicians from his home state, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson formally entered the 2008 presidential campaign Monday, saying that his thick resume offered him an ability unmatched by others in the race to tackle the country's problems at home and abroad.
The Democratic candidate, who has been running for months and has already aired campaign ads, made his announcement in downtown Los Angeles' Millennium Biltmore Hotel.
Richardson's official entry expands what is becoming the most diverse field of mainstream presidential candidates in U.S. history. He is of Mexican heritage, and his candidacy joins those of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the son of a black man, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), the first woman to campaign in the top tier of her party's presidential contenders.
The staging of the announcement emphasized his ethnicity. County Supervisor Gloria Molina hosted the announcement, and Richardson said in Spanish that he hoped to be the first Latino president of the United States.
Richardson focused on his resume, one of the most wide-ranging among the major candidates. He served seven terms representing New Mexico in Congress, and was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Energy secretary in the Clinton administration.
Richardson, who was born in Pasadena and raised primarily in Mexico City, also has performed several high-profile diplomatic missions, including negotiating for the release of Americans detained in North Korea, Iraq and Darfur.
In contrast, Clinton is in her second term in the Senate. Obama, a former Chicago community organizer and Illinois state legislator, is in the third year of his first Senate term. Another Democratic candidate, former trial lawyer John Edwards of North Carolina, served one term in the Senate.
"This nation needs a leader with a proven track record, an ability to bring people together to tackle our problems here at home and abroad," Richardson said.
But Richardson is not well-known, and in early fundraising -- key to buying ads to introduce himself to voters -- he has lagged well behind the record-setting levels of Obama and Clinton.
Energizing Latino voters could be key to his political viability, said Jaime A. Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. Strong Latino backing could help Richardson in California, Nevada and other Southwestern states, which Democrats see as key to winning the White House. Nevada caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 19 and the California primary Feb. 5.
"If his candidacy starts to take off, that means he's playing to the developing political muscle" of Latino voters, Regalado said. "But he well knows he can't stay there."
In his announcement, Richardson continued a theme he established in two recent campaign ads, in which he is seen being interviewed by a hiring director. The ads tout his experience and joke that he might be overqualified to be president.
"Running for this office is the ultimate job interview," Richardson said Monday. "It's not just about the positions that you've held, what you've done, but your ability on Day One to lead this country at a critical time in our nation's history."
Richardson offered several proposals, including a plan for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq in tandem with negotiating a political truce. In a swipe at the Bush administration, he said that "being stubborn is not a foreign policy."
"Only when it is clear that the U.S. will leave Iraq can the hard diplomatic work have a chance for success," Richardson said. "A negotiated political settlement involving the warring parties and interested neighbors is how to prevent a regional war."
Richardson returned several times to his view that the nation had been damaged by Bush administration policies. "We have to repair the damage done here at home and our reputation abroad, and that all starts with restoring diplomacy as the primary instrument of our foreign policy, and basic fairness as the primary means for solving problems," he said.
He called for aggressive policies aimed at combating global warming, including reducing greenhouse emissions by 20% in 12 years, cutting demand for oil in half and enacting fuel-economy standards to 50 miles per gallon. On healthcare, he said he would require all employers to provide insurance or pay a fee to the federal government.
He also said he opposed the immigration plan before Congress on the grounds that it would divide families. Instead of building a border fence, Richardson said, the government should hire more Border Patrol agents. Immigrants already here illegally should be able to become legal by paying a fine, passing a background check and catching up on owed taxes, he said. He called for working with the Mexican government to create a "reasonable guest worker program."