Richardson drops out of presidential race

By Nedra Pickler: The Associated Press

MERRIMACK, N.H. — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended his campaign for the presidency Wednesday after twin fourth-place finishes that showed his impressive credentials could not compete with his rivals’ star power.

Richardson planned to announce the decision today, according to two people close to the governor with knowledge of the decision. They spoke on a condition of anonymity in advance of the governor’s announcement.

Richardson’s campaign would not comment on the governor’s decision, reached after a meeting with his top advisers Wednesday in New Mexico.

Richardson had one of the most wide-ranging resumes of any candidate ever to run for the presidency, bringing experience from his time in Congress, President Clinton’s Cabinet, in the New Mexico Statehouse as well as his unique role as a freelance diplomat. As a Hispanic, he added to the unprecedented diversity in the Democratic field that also included a black man and a woman.

But Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama dominated the spotlight in the campaign, and Richardson was never able to become a top-tier contender. He accused his rivals of failing to commit to bring troops home from Iraq soon enough.

He portrayed his campaign as a job application for president, and ran clever ads that showed a bored interviewer unimpressed with his dazzling resume. The commercials helped fuel his move to double-digit support in some early state polls, and advisers argued he was poised to move past former vice presidential nominee John Edwards for the role of third-place challenger.

But he was not able to build the momentum and came in a distant fourth place in Iowa and New Hampshire. Richardson didn’t get quite 5 percent in the New Hampshire primary Tuesday and came in with just 2 percent in the Iowa caucus last week.

Edwards congratulated Richardson, saying he had run a good race.

“He was a very good candidate, a serious candidate … I congratulate him. He ought to be proud of what he’s done,” Edwards said in Columbia, S.C. He pledged anew to remain a candidate himself, and said Richardson’s decision means Democrats in South Carolina will get to choose on Jan. 26 from three candidates who are running vigorous campaigns.

“What’s happened is, over time the race is becoming more focused. I think that’s good for democracy. I think this thing’s going on for a long time,” Edwards said. “I assume the other two are. I know I am. I’m in it for the long haul.”

Richardson was born 60 years ago in Pasadena, Calif., after his American father sent his Mexican mother there to give birth and erase any doubts that his son would be a U.S. citizen. His father was an international banker from Boston, and Richardson spent his childhood in Mexico City before being sent to boarding school in Massachusetts, where he was a standout baseball player.

After graduating from Tufts University in 1971 with a master’s degree in international affairs, Richardson worked first as a congressional aide and then for the State Department. He was a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he decided to leave Washington in 1978 to launch a political career.

Richardson settled in New Mexico partly because of the state’s large Hispanic population, and he won election to the House. Richardson is a master negotiator, and put his diplomatic skills to work to rescue Americans held hostage abroad. He earned a reputation for a mix of patience, toughness and cultural sensitivity that served him well on mercy missions from North Korea to Cuba to Sudan.

President Clinton recruited Richardson to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, then secretary of Energy two years later.

He was easily elected to two terms as governor but will be forced from office by term limits in 2010. His closest advisers hope that even if his presidential campaign didn’t bring him many votes, it built his reputation so that he’ll one day be able to add even more to his resume.