The field for the Democratic presidential nomination got still more crowded this morning, with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson announcing he will take the first step in a run for the White House by forming a presidential exploratory committee. Richardson followed the announcement with an exclusive interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."
Richardson enters a contest already dominated by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who announced this week that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee of his own, and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, who made a statement about her presidential ambitions just yesterday.
Still, while much media attention has been focused on the frontrunners, Richardson told Stephanopoulos he believes there is room in the field for a Hispanic governor from a western state. And Richardson, in his second term as governor of New Mexico, has one of the longest resumes of anyone vying for the Democratic nomination, having served as secretary of the Department of Energy, ambassador to the United Nations, and more recently as an envoy to North Korea and Sudan.
In his interview with Stephanopoulos, Richardson made it clear that he will try to leverage this background by drawing a contrast between the extent of his experiences and those of his likely competitors for the nomination.
"The next president must be able to make us energy independent, must be able to make schools better, create jobs, give the American people, every American, a fair shot," said Richardson. "To get that done, you need real-life experience. All I'm saying is, a lot of these folks can make speeches about all these things. I've actually done it."
Richardson also is a resident of a western state, making him unique among the major candidates for the nomination. Over the last decade, Democrats have made significant inroads in that region of the country, and the party has increased the West's significance in the presidential nomination process by making Nevada's primary among the first in the nation.
"I'm a Westerner," said Richardson on "This Week." "This is a new area that is fertile for the Democratic Party."
But early polling shows Richardson still has a tough road ahead, even in the West. In Nevada, as in nearly all of the other early voting states, polls show him near the bottom of the list of Democratic contenders.
Another hurdle for Richardson will be raising money. Being based in New Mexico, Richardson lacks a natural, wealthy base to tap for money, and in a field crowded with frontrunners like Clinton, Obama, and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Richardson may have trouble raising the nearly $100 million most analysts predict will be needed to earn the nomination. As of mid-December, Richardson had only about $1.3 million in cash to support his bid.
Some have speculated that Richardson's low name recognition and lack of money, combined with his long political resume, indicate he is mostly running for the vice presidential nomination. As he recounts in his autobiography, "Between Worlds," Richardson interviewed for that job with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004, and in 2000 he was talked about as a possible vice presidential nominee on the ticket headed by former Vice President Al Gore.
But in his interview with Stephanopoulos, Richardson denied that he is angling for the No. 2 job.
"I'm not interested in being vice president," said Richardson. "I've got a better job as governor of New Mexico. If I don't get the nomination, I'll come back and be governor."
"This is not a strategy that leads to another position," he added.
If Richardson does make it all the way to the White House, he would make history as the nation's first Hispanic president.
"I wouldn't run as a Hispanic candidate. I would run as an American, proud to be Hispanic," he said. "I wouldn't just be focusing on Hispanic issues or trying to get the Hispanic vote."