Richardson: Obama's Race Speech Won Me

Calls Obama 'once-in-a-lifetime leader,' says he'll work to woo superdelegates.

March 22, 2008— -- Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., said today that he made up his mind to endorse Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for president after hearing his speech on race last week, calling him a "once-in-a-lifetime-leader."

"I think Obama is a once-in-a-lifetime leader and I felt, by stepping in, I might bring some kind of party unity or a message to others that we have to come together," the former presidential candidate said on "Good Morning America Weekend" today.

At an Obama rally in Oregon yesterday, Richardson gave the junior senator from Illinois his highly coveted endorsment and described him as "a president who would bring this nation together." The announcement gave the Obama campaign a shot in the arm after a week of unwanted headlines and dwindling poll numbers.

Since dropping out of the race two months ago, and with both the Obama and Clinton camps actively seeking his support, Richardson maintained that he wanted to "stay loose."

"I think what kind of clinched it for me, although I made a decision a week ago, was Sen. Obama's speech on race. He had this problem with his pastor. He could have said nothing or glided through it. Instead, he attacked the race issue head on, talking about stereotypes, taking some very, very tough stances on this issue," Richardson said.

Having served as secretary of energy and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in President Clinton's cabinet, and recently attending the Super Bowl with the former president, Richardson felt pressure to support his old friends, the Clintons.

Yesterday, Richardson said, "my great affection and admiration for Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will never waiver. Today, he echoed those thoughts, but sounded less impressed. "Well, I'm very fond of President Clinton and Senator Clinton. You know, there were a couple of times when I thought they got too negative, though," he said.

Richardson explained that his decision was based more on the potential he saw in Obama, rather than anything the Clintons did to turn him off.

"I just believe Senator Obama brings in a new breed of leadership, new breed of advisers, new breed of constituency, younger people, people that have been out of politics. That is very attractive, not just to the Democratic party, but for the country."

Yesterday, Richardson described the phone call he made to Sen. Clinton, D-N.Y., to tell her the news, as one of the toughest he's ever had to make.

"I dreaded making the call all day. I got to be honest. She asked me 'why' and I gave her the answer, that I thought Senator Obama was something special. I mentioned the race speech. She was disappointed," he said.

Richardson stopped short of saying that Clinton didn't have a chance, but said he will work to bring the party together behind Obama from now until the convention, including trying to rally crucial swing superdelegates behind him.

"I believe Senator Obama will be the nominee. Senator Clinton has come on strong lately and she has every right to stay in the race, but it reaches a point — delegate numbers ... when I think, towards maybe after the next set of primaries, that the Democratic Party, superdelegates, leaders and state chairmen come together and say, 'look, we can't be bloodied going into the convention, we can't be divided,'" he said.