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Democrat Bill Richardson officially entered the presidential race Monday with a naked appeal to Hispanics, saying in an interview that it's "rudimentary politics" to make sure the country's fastest growing voting bloc knows he's one of them.
Richardson announced his candidacy in both English and Spanish from the heart of the U.S. Hispanic population and the nation's most delegate-rich state. The event was held about 10 miles from where Richardson was born in 1947 and spent just a few hours before returning to Mexico City, where he was raised by an American father and Mexican mother.
Richardson told The Associated Press that he's not running exclusively as a Hispanic, but as the American governor of New Mexico who is proud to be Latino.
"One of my potential problems is that one of my potential bases &
don't know that I'm Hispanic, so I'm trying to change that. It's just rudimentary politics," Richardson said in an interview. "When my name recognition among Hispanics is below 10 percent, I've got to accentuate it, because it's a potential base for me."
Richardson said he's not well known among Hispanics because he lives in a small state and is not as famous as some of his rivals. He is running against Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden; former Sens. John Edwards and Mike Gravel; and Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
"Some are rock stars," said Richardson, a former congressman who served as President Clinton's energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations. "I am not, but I have a proven record.
"With pride, I hope to be the first Latino president of the United States," he said in Spanish, with cheers from the many supporters in the room who speak the language.
In the interview, Richardson said his goal is to "somehow break out" in the first two nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire, but not necessarily win.
"I believe if you don't do well on the first four you're finished," Richardson said. He said he was increasing his television advertising in Iowa and New Hampshire on Tuesday to continue building his support in those states. "I don't want to predict victory anywhere, but if I can have good showings, especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, I believe that can propel us to the mega-states."
Many observers believe a candidate will need a win in an early state to create the buzz and media coverage that will propel him to a win during the Feb. 5 megaprimary. But Richardson said he can "do well" and still compete.
Richardson has been running for president for months, but he had gone only so far as to form an exploratory campaign under federal election rules.
He raised $6.2 million in the first three months of the year &
about a quarter of what Obama and Clinton brought in and less than half of what Edwards raised. He said he would focus more intensely on fundraising now that he's fully engaged in the race, but he doesn't expect to catch up to the roughly $25 million mark that Clinton and Obama set.
He said he plans to spend half his time campaigning in the first four nominating states, where he needs to do well, and the other half raising money in western states near his home base &
along with New York, Florida and Texas, three states that have large Hispanic populations and have moved up their primaries.
Richardson said his track record makes him the right person to lead the country through a pivotal time. He said he would repair the "ravages" of the Bush administration, beginning with a withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and a determination to make diplomacy the primary instrument of U.S. foreign policy.
In both English and Spanish, Richardson criticized the immigration bill under debate in Congress, which he said would separate families by requiring illegal immigrants who are heads of households to return to their home countries before gaining legal status. But he said the proposal is a "step in the right direction" because it would establish a path to citizenship and because it increases border patrols.
In an interview later at the exclusive Regency Club, where he was holding an evening fundraiser, Richardson said he would vote for the bill if he were in Congress. But he said he would try to amend it to make improvements, including an elimination of the required return to home countries and the creation of a 370-mile border fence.
Richardson's announcement came in the midst of a dispute with the mother of a Marine from New Mexico who was killed in Iraq.
Richardson often talks on the campaign trail about how he was inspired to create a $250,000 death benefit for fallen New Mexico National Guard members because of the low amount Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin's mother got from the federal government.
Austin's mother, De'on Miller, a staunch Republican from Lovington, N.M., told The Associated Press in an interview she never mentioned money to Richardson at her son's memorial service and he should apologize. But Richardson said he stands by his story that Miller thanked him for an initial $11,000 in federal death benefits she had received.
He said he considers Austin a hero and his family heroic for the enormous hardship they've endured. He said the point is that his exchange with Miller prompted him to enact a life insurance policy for New Mexico guardsmen, which prompted other states to pass similar measures.
"This ceremony produced a good thing for this country and for our troops, but that's all I want to say," he said.
Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.
Richardson joins race for 2008
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