April 9, 2007 — -- When Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico comes to town, voters should prepare for some up close and personal campaigning.
"I'm not a rock star," Richardson told audiences in New Hampshire during his last campaign swing before leading a Bush administration-endorsed diplomatic delegation to North Korea.
And while Richardson is the first to admit he isn't at the level of rival Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., when it comes to bucks or buzz, the governor is banking on his resume and personality to fill in the fundraising gap.
Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton era, adds another line to an already lengthy diplomatic resume this week as he travels to North Korea on a goodwill mission.
The high-profile outing -- officially to claim the remains of American troops killed in the Korean War but also including a request to tour one of North Korea's controversial nuclear reactors -- has the blessing of an unusual source in President Bush.
Back on the trail, Richardson seems most relaxed when talking about foreign policy, a fact often noticed when approaching only the second election since Sept. 11.
"This presidential cycle is going to be about foreign policy and national security, and I think the governor has all of the experience that would lead us through the challenging times ahead," New Hampshire local Pamela Green noted during Richardson's trip last week.
On the overarching foreign policy issue of the day -- Iraq -- the governor said, if elected, he would withdraw U.S. troops as well as engage future international enemies instead of antagonizing them.
When a Dartmouth College student asked the governor last week how he plans to beat his top-tier rivals, Richardson quickly answered, "I'm going to outwork them. I've got better qualifications. I'm going to go around to the small communities and meet as many people as possible."
And during a three-day tour of the Granite State, Richardson did just that, meeting with locals at restaurants, visiting the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and shaking hands with just about anyone and everyone in between.
"He connects with people, he shakes hands with everyone, whether it is everyone in the room or everyone in the kitchen too," said Pahl Shipley, Richardson's communication director. As Richardson toured the Stonyfild Farm yogurt factory he practically ran to say hello to employees who disappeared behind palettes.
At Dartmouth College in Hanover, few of the roughly three hundred students coming to learn more about the governor were willing to sign up for the Richardson mailing list at first. Still, he stuck around after the talk to sign posters, shake hands, answer more questions and take pictures. By the time the crowd had filed out, the mailing list was completely full.
"New Hampshire is all about retail politics, and I think he has got that down," said Courtney Merrill, a Dartmouth sophomore and member of the College Democrats. "If he just continues to go around New Hampshire meeting people face to face he'll start to win them over gradually, telling people about his experience."
At town hall meetings, Richardson is prone to brief speeches, taking the majority of time to answer questions from the crowd.
"They want honesty, they want people with passion, they don't want overly controlled candidates, they don't want scripted candidates," said Richardson in between greeting locals.
Despite populist appeal, the race to 2008 is a marathon, not a sprint and the governor knows it will take cash to go the distance.
"I always look at history, and history says presidents come from governors, so I am encouraged by that. But I am also discouraged that every governor dropped out because of money and resources. Senators have access to media, they become rock stars. Governors are only media stars in their state," said Richardson before meeting with locals in Berlin, N.H.
At the end of first-quarter fundraising, Richardson had raised roughly $6.3 million, $5 million of which is cash on hand.
That's enough to keep Richardson rolling into early caucus and primary states, but paltry in comparison to the record-shattering millions raised by fellow Democratic contenders. Political wunderkind Obama hauled in $25 million, almost all of which is for the primary fight, besting Clinton, who raised an equally eyebrow-raising $26 million for both the primary and general election, should the former first lady nab the nomination.
"He will be on the road more, he will be doing more fundraising," said Shipley, also noting they will also be announcing a series of new hires in the coming weeks and increasing their online efforts.
For now, however, Richardson is far from Manchester or Des Moines, instead employing his positive personality in Pyongyang. It's a delicate balance -- adding cache but not cash to a growing war chest.