Why Bill Won’t Win

Taken on the surface, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson looks like a handsome candidate.  His long resume would make him seem more than qualified to hold the top office in the country, while his tenure as a governor gives him the added benefit of not being a senator.  On top of this, his tv buys are probably some of the best we’ve seen in a while, and he has a small but focused and enthusiastic following.

Still, watching Bill Richardson’s campaign is a practice in why some guys just can’t win, no matter what they try.

Let us, for a moment, put aside the fact that in a star studded race, Bill Richardson has virtually no star power whatsoever.  Before this campaign, no one but the true insiders and junkies outside of New Mexico had a clue who this guy was, but still, that’s minor.  Often times, that’s just how things go, and the onus is upon the candidate to change whatever buzz there is or is not going on about them.  There are many other reasons for which he is flailing and failing as a candidate.

One thing that struck me early on was the idea of a Latino candidate.  Not that he was one, but that he was actually, officially, running one, or at least that was the impression that one received in the early debates. 

With a woman and an African American not only in the race, but leading it, drawing attention to Richardsons own minority ethnicity would seem to have, at best, a diminished effect.  But it goes deeper than that.  One of the great successes of both Hillary and Barack is that they are not running as minority candidates.  To watch their campaigns, it is as though there is nothing whatsoever odd about the concept of the first woman president or the first black president.

By contrast, I remember specifically during the first and second debates Richardson drawing attention to his ethnicity, particularly in regards to the then hot immigration topic.  But this would seem counterintuitive to what works and what does not work.  This also occurred when specifically asked about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, which put Richardson in a tough spot who admitted supporting Gonzales longer than most because of his Latino heritage, but eventually came around to everyone else’s thinking.

Keep in mind, I have no problems with Richardson being Latino.  Trust me on this.  My point is that he seems to have missed the boat on how to campaign in regards to his heritage.  The winning strategy is to at least appear as though America has moved on from its gender and ethnic based tensions, and that the best person qualified should be elected, regardless of these disparities.

But this is minor, and something that has not been prominent in recent times.

Another stumbling block impeding Richardson on his ill-fated run on the White House was his lack of polish in the debates.  Prior to the first debate a small amount of buzz was running regarding the governor.  His previously mentioned resume made him seem like he was ready for the big times, but oh wow was he ever not.

His first debate performance showed a confused and out of touch man who failed consistently to do well on all of the questions posed to him.  After blaming this on technical difficulties, Richardson came out the gate in the second debate and proceeded to do just as bad.

He understood all of the questions, but his answers followed a very rigid and annoying formula.  “I was a governor” followed by “this is what I would do.”  His desire to remind debate viewers that he was the only executive on stage overrode just about anything else he said.

And yet, despite poor performance that never seemed to improve very much at all, Richardson still seemed permanently poised to break through the second tier ceiling into the big leagues with the top three.

But it never happened and it never will, and the largest part of that is the man is a walking gaffe machine.

Now, gaffe’s happen.  Sometimes you say something and it just doesn’t sit well with folks.  Sometimes they’re minor and can be overlooked, and other times they are huge, and can sink a campaign in the span of the few seconds it took to utter them.

For Richardson, the problem is that they are consistent.

From underestimating the President’s salary to forgetting that France is part of the UN’s Security Council, the experienced Richardson paints himself as a minor leaguer prone to rookie mistakes, a fact that MYDD’s Todd Beeton says is a huge weakness when you think of him going up against the vicious GOP machine.

Indeed just recently Richardson seemed to forget what party he was campaigning for, or even what room and what audience he was addressing when he told Melissa Etheridge of all people at an LGBT Presidential Forum that he believed that sexual orientation was a choice.

Extreme back pedaling wouldn’t erase this one despite having a largely pro-gay stance.

And then there’s his most recent God gaffe, which I find particularly unfortunate when you think of the problems that Democrats face in addressing their faith in an honest matter.

It’s no secret, whether you think it cynical or honest, Republicans have managed to wear the Religious mantle far easier than Democrats.  For the most part I believe that this stems from the idea that for many Democrats, there is far more faith put into the separation between church and state.  I myself am not particularly fond of religious overtones by public officials.  It’s not that I hate God, I just don’t want him in my political sphere.  History has shown that that typically doesn’t end well.

But with so many Americans identifying themselves as Christians, Republicans seemed to take no time at all contemplating the necessities of separation, and jumped in head first into mixing public rhetoric with religious doctrine.

Aside from having the effect of winning the support of the powerful Religious Right, it has paralyzed Democrats on all things faith in a significant number of elections and left us scrambling to find a happy medium of showing that we too are people of faith, but also respectful of a secular society.

Richardson seems to have shot straight beyond that and headed for the Bush-like God ordains everything mode.

God’s will is for Iowa to have the first-in-the-nation caucus, Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson told a crowd here today.

“Iowa, for good reason, for constitutional reasons, for reasons related to the Lord should be the first caucus and primary,” Richardson, New Mexico’s governor said at the Northwest Iowa Labor Council Picnic. “And I want you to know who was the first candidate to sign a pledge not to campaign anywhere if they got ahead of Iowa. It was Bill Richardson.”

Yeah… that’s gonna leave a mark… particularly in Post Bush America where I think you’ll find many more people just a little skeptical of people injecting God into politics.  Not that we’ll ever fully be able to separate the two.  I think we are at least for a generation or two going to see more God talk in politics, but it can’t help your campaign much if one of your sound bites sound like they were taken straight from George Bush’s speechwriters.

Beyond this, there’s the sheer absurdity of it all.  God really cares where we have our first primary caucus?  Really?  I know he’s omniscient and omnipotent, and everything, but still, Iowa?

I don’t get it.

What I do get is that at some point Bill’s gotta realize that his best bet is Secretary of State, and maybe he should think about getting out soon before even that is closed to him.

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